Karen Kingsley

Karen Kingsley by Britt Gambino

Gotham Business Writing teacher Karen Kingsley learns a lot from her dog. She and Case, her five-year-old Portuguese water dog, have been competing in agility trials for two years. She uses hand signals, voice commands, and body language to direct Case through doggy-like obstacle courses—complete with hurdles and tunnels. Karen says, "Learning how to train a dog using only positive methods really helps in working with people." This method of psychology has become the foundation of both Karen’s business ventures and her teaching.

Karen, who has worked in publishing and advertising, observes that the ability to understand or "get inside your clients’ heads" is fundamental to working in business. You have to "make them want what you want." Good business writing, Karen explains, is really more like persuasive writing, whether you’re trying to get a new copier for your office or a big raise for yourself; it’s all an act of persuasion. Karen tries to impart these powers of persuasion to her students, as well as guide them through the many obstacles of writing effectively in the business world—with positive reinforcement.

In addition to working with her business clients and teaching classes, Karen offers what she calls a "fix that personal situation" service. It began as a happy accident when a student contacted Karen looking for advice: the student needed to ask a favor of someone while also delivering an effective apology. Karen agreed to craft a letter on the student’s behalf. The letter worked, and an idea clicked. Karen began offering this as a professional service for anyone struggling in the personal letter-writing department.

Karen also uses her non-business interests (other than her dog) to inspire her work. In her spare time, she is at work on a novel, and this creative impulse prompted her to write an entertaining business book, which she hopes will enlighten readers on the psychology behind business communication. For example, she prompts readers to ask themselves how they sort through their emails, which should then lead to figuring out how other people sort through their emails. If you can determine that, you can master writing emails that people will respond to quickly. It’s all a matter of human behavior—understanding how we behave helps us understand how others behave. In fact, earlier in life, Karen was devoted to acting, and she finds parallels between business psychology and an actor’s need to find the motivation of a character.

Motivation certainly plays a role when Karen is coaxing her dog through the obstacle course. "Part of successfully competing in these trials," Karen says, "is getting Case to want to do what I want him to do. There is no leash between us. There’s no way to really control the dog. I only have his willingness to do what he wants to do. It’s the same in the business world."