Words Matter: Two Easy Writing Tips For 2012

Do words matter?

Even though most of us are not great authors we’ll still spend most of our day writing. Why? On average 90% of business communication is done using email or instant message (IM). Not to mention the time we spend writing proposals and reports.

So, do words matter? Sure they do. Two of the most common areas we can improve are:

  1. The number of words we use (we use too few or too many)
  2. The actual words we use (we often don’t fully describe what we are trying to say)

Let’s discuss these opportunities!

I believe all we need to do to start writing better is to learn to control the ‘Busy Beast.’

What is the ‘Busy Beast‘? It’s what I call the feeling of being so ‘busy’ that our email writing stops informing. We stop managing people’s expectations. We write so briefly our writing loses focus, and when this happens we actually:

  • Get less accomplished
  • Create more work for ourselves and the people around us
  • Become less efficient; costing us time, money and potentially opportunity
  • Sound pushy, rude and / or bossy
  • Lower our customer service ratings

I believe another reason for our brevity is that we’re becoming so used to 140 characters (Twitters limit), that our meaning – our intent is so “high level” so “50,000 feet”, that the words we do write are virtually meaningless.

Email Example 1: Being Too Brief

If your boss sends the following email to you, what’s your next step?

Are you going to ask your boss:

  • What are the priority areas is she most concerned with?
  • What behaviour she wants to see from your team?

If you do ask your boss might question your competency even though the real meaning of her request is lost. If you’re like most people you’ll ‘interpret‘ what you think your boss is asking for and what your team needs. You’ll use your experience but be cautious.

Unfortunately, if you don’t ask you risk wasting your time, effort and budget.

This is why words matter. The problem isn’t your competency, it’s the email message. Too few words were used resulting in too little information being shared.

People at all levels of the company write email like this. Not because we hope our readers will fail. In most cases it’s because we’re all so ‘busy’ we don’t take 20 extra seconds to ask ourselves “Have I given my readers enough information for them to understand what I am saying or asking for?

What if we did take an extra 20 seconds to include the information our audience needs to understand our request. In this example, what if the email the boss wrote was this:

Good Email Example

We see that words matter because they can help our audience understand what we are thinking, feeling, wanting.

As I mention in my blog post called Increase Productivity By 15% Or More!, if you have to write one more email to 15% of the requests that come to you (because your co-worker didn’t write a clear message for example), you’re wasting 12 days of your valuable time each year (and they’re also wasting their time). There is a very real cost / loss when employees write bad email.

Email Example 2: Being Too Vague

Here’s another of my favourite examples. I will contact you later. What does that mean?

Here are some of the possibilities for:  I will contact you later.

What is contact?

What is later?

Phone your office
Phone your mobile phone
Instant Message
BlackBerry PIN
MAC FaceTime or Skype
Come by your office
Facebook message
Within the hour
When I’m out of my meeting
This afternoon
On my drive home
Within the week
When I have an answer
When ‘X’ gets back to me

We need to give the people we communicate with some help. They don’t live inside our head.

Much of this seems to be commonsense; natural even because it’s what many of us learned when we were young. However, in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives many of these truths have been set aside and we’ve become unaware of our abrupt, abbreviated 140 characters or less impact as we move through our day.

It’s time to slow down – to control the ‘Busy Beast‘. It’s time to become more efficient by no longer wasting our efforts and time and the efforts and time of the people around us.

Most of the time an extra 20 seconds will may go a long way to communicating effectively (the first time), and to building meaningful relationships.

Kind thoughtful words do matter.

Imagine work being easier. Imagine work being more productive.

Happy communicating.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Multigenerational Training, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

4 Responses to Words Matter: Two Easy Writing Tips For 2012

  1. We often communicate back to people the way they communicate to us. No excuse for being unclear of vague.

    • Bruce Mayhew says:

      Thank you for your comment Rick.

      You are very right. No matter what comes to us… we are always responsible for what we send out. Our personal and professional reputation depends on it.


  2. Bryce Winter says:

    I appreciate the level of detail and contextual reference.
    Great specifics!
    This is a genuinely useful reference article.
    Thanks Bruce.

    • Bruce Mayhew says:

      Hey Bryce,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you find the detail & context helpful. I find messages & points are clarified when supported by examples.
      Please share with your network as you wish.

I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts and your experiences.

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