Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Communicating more effectively as a job and career skill set 5: putting it in writing 1

This is my fifth installment to a series on what is one of the most important, and also one of the most commonly problematical of all workplace skills: communicating with others, and as an effective two (or more) way process (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I have primarily focused on verbal, face to face communications up to here in this series where that can mean more effectively presenting your ideas and perspectives in one to one conversations, or to a larger audience. I will come back to further consider those forums in future postings, but turn here to consider written communications and I begin this with the basics and with a simple acknowledgment:

• Most people are more comfortable discussing issues verbally and face to face then they are when expressing themselves in writing. Effective and convincing writing takes practice and experience, and certainly when you seek to convey a complex message or one that takes a novel or contrarian approach and you can only make a presentation on it in writing.
• And just as importantly you cannot give your audience an opportunity to offer immediate connecting feedback that could help them in coming to agreement with you. Immediate two way communication and idea sharing facilitates buy-in and for all involved parties.
• You do not get the opportunity to see body language or to hear immediate feedback that would help you to identify where you might be unclear or where a reader might see factual error that you could correct and you do not get that immediate opportunity to adjust the order in which you present your ideas so as to present them in a more audience-approachable and audience-friendly way.

Effective writing calls for a level of thoroughness and precision in how you develop and present your basic message that is rarely called for in active two way conversation, where you can adjust what you say and how you say it as you go along to keep your audience with you. And then there is the matter of detail and of level of detail.

When you write you have to decide what clarifying and explaining details to include and how and in what order, and you have to decide what to hold off on for this communication, or simply leave out. And this means thinking through both what you seek to say in writing, and who your audience for this will be.

Let’s consider email communications here as they and text messaging are among the commonest forms of written communications in business, and emails are largely asynchronous – they are not as conducive to anything like real-time back and forth communications. Most people receive more emails than they would want to at work and find themselves skimming messages and particularly longer ones as a gatekeeping first filtering step, and as a work schedule protective measure if nothing else. And they only really read the emails from this flood in detail, that more fully catch their attention and interest. And for emails this begins with the subject line:

• Many people set aside without opening, emails that have unclear or seemingly extraneous subject lines.
• Many people at least initially considering just filing away or deleting emails that look to have been sent out indiscriminately, as for example to everyone on a large committee. A Reply All inclusion on a distribution list can and does lower both expectations of importance and likelihood that an email will even be opened at all, and particularly when it appears as just one more addition to a seeming flood of trivial Reply All’s that at best, just a few of the members of that committee would be at all interested in or need to see.

Let me generalize a bit from this email example: if you have something important to say be selective in whom you send it to, and do not poison your reputation as a communicator by overuse of Reply All and similar spam-like mistakes. And be careful in how you present what you have to, and what covering message you add to it (e.g. for emails what subject lines you use, or for attached documents what cover notes you include.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a next posting where I will turn to consider how you can partition your message, and the written discussion that you present it with. In anticipation of that I note here that this can mean offering an executive summary or similar covering document as well as offering a more detailed background-material and explanatory reference-version document. And this can mean preparing your audience by breaking up what could be a single very long and complex message into installments or sections, and building up to the ultimate point or perspective that you seek to convey through their progression. This is important: you can sometimes best help yourself to more effectively and convincingly present complex ideas and can help your audience come to appreciate and understand them by developing and building up to them in stages; sometimes the people you need to reach and convince would be more amenable to what you have to say to them if you present your ideas in steps and give them time to think about all of this and check to see how you approach would connect with what they are doing and with what they start out assuming.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. You can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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