Do we need to update our Communication Skills?
If our medium of communication has changed, we surely need to brush-up on our skills in the medium we’re using. Business writing used to be the domain of specialists – secretaries and people who were employed to write because they had language skills. Now everyone writes, all the time. Does this mean that good business writing is not that important?
Bad communication loses business. English isn’t the home language of many people in your workplace, yet often they need to convey difficult or complex information in a professional way. So what happens? Customers, suppliers and colleagues receive mails that are confusing, vague, grammatically incorrect or full of meaningless jargon. We all bash out e-mails carelessly when we’re in a hurry, without checking how they might be interpreted by the reader. The person on the receiving end, instead of being able to respond verbally and immediately (as with a telephone), either rolls his eyes and ignores the mail, or types an irritated response which furthers the misunderstanding. Business writing errors can cause conflict or very expensive misunderstandings. Consider this…
Person 1 (Joan) writes to Person 2 (Themba). Joan intends to ask Themba’s opinion on a project, as she’s concerned about it and thinks it needs to be re-worked. She sends Themba a mail which reads: “Please let me know your thoughts on this project – I’m concerned about it” (She’s cognisant that Themba’s a busy man and may not like being told that his project is presenting problems). Themba interprets the mail thus: “Joan obviously isn’t too worried, otherwise she’d phone me or tell me exactly what the problem is. I don’t have time to put my opinions in writing, so I’ll reassure her with the comment “Don’t worry about a thing. It’s been well researched and is going fine”. Joan then assumes Themba doesn’t take her seriously, and starts a vendetta against the project, without the support of Themba who she believes isn’t interested in researching the problem further and is too arrogant to listen to her.
The fastest way to destroy work relationships
Since we write in order to put things on record, we need to be aware of how easy it is to have careless mistakes or thoughtless words put on record to be held against us some time in the future. As Shakespeare said… “The pen is mightier than the sword”. An e-mail can devastate or end a relationship way faster than a phone call (ask the many teenagers who prefer to break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend by sms!)
There are many situations where we should rather be telephoning people, to allow for a two-way conversation and make sure we convey the right tone, but we tend to send mails and text messages because it’s easier than having to get into a time-consuming discussion with the other party. But if we’re aware of how critical it is to write well, and how dangerous it is to write carelessly, we might prefer to use the telephone – it may be faster and more effective in the long run. And we can always confirm the discussion after that, with a simple, bulleted e-mail that is much easier to construct once we’ve already established an amicable relationship verbally.
Everyone who sends mails out from your company should be able to write in a way that reflects the sort of image you want your company to convey. If they can’t do this naturally, ensure they’re properly trained to write well, before they cause irreparable damage to relationships with customers, suppliers or fellow staff members.
And yes, perhaps use of the office telephone is becoming less common, but it shouldn’t be. There are many times when it is better to converse verbally, rather than writing one-way messages. Thoughtless use of e-mail has become a devastating virus in many organisations, and is now the major cause of inter-personal conflict in business. Don’t use e-mail when a telephone would be more effective.
Copyright: Copperline Training