Words Matter: Two Easy Writing Tips For 2012
January 3, 2012 4 Comments
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:
The number of words we use (we use too few or too many)
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:
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
MAC FaceTime or Skype
Come by your office
|Within the hour
When I’m out of my meeting
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.
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