What does “polite written communication” mean to you? To one of my clients it means using elaborate language. That’s because in her culture flowery prose is a way of expressing respect. She tells me that she struggles when she tries to write more directly because she worries she will seem too blunt, and cause offense.
I’ve explained to my client that there is a way to communicate clearly without seeming rude, and straightforward language doesn’t mean there isn’t careful thought at work. In fact, I think long and hard about the wording of every email message I send. I want to be absolutely clear about whatever I am trying to say. But, at the same time, I certainly don’t want to offend whomever is on the receiving end. Really, it’s a quest to find the balance between the clarity of the message and the appropriate tone.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people.” Amusing as the quote is, it probably isn’t the best approach to 21st century business! So, instead of following Shaw’s lead, have a look at the following tips for some guidance in how to write clearly without causing offense.
The Language Lab’s tips on how not to offend
1. Careful word choice
Not: “Your latest demand will be met by the agreed-upon date.”
But: “Your recent request will be met by the agreed-upon date.”
2. Correct grammar use
Not: “There has been thousands of books written about subject and verb agreement.”
But: “There have been thousands of books written about subject and verb agreement.”
3. Positive, not negative
Not: “We can’t respond to your request until Friday.”
But: “We will be happy to respond to your request on Friday.”
4. Simplicity, not complexity
Not: “As stated heretofore, your deadline will be met according to the terms and conditions delineated in our previous emails on the subject.”
But: “We are pleased to meet your deadline on the date agreed upon in our last email exchange.”
5. Active, not passive
Not: “Mistakes were made.”
But: “We made mistakes.”
6. Direct, but thoughtful
Not: “Whether it is convenient or not I still need to get the information from you right away.”
But: “I realize this request may come at a difficult time; however it would be extremely helpful if you could share the information at your earliest convenience.”
You may have noticed there is a common thread running through all of the above tips: they put the recipient of the message first. Think of the person receiving the message. Are you communicating to that person clearly, in a friendly and honest manner? If you are, you can rest assured your communications will not offend. After all, you probably don’t want to see what “success” might look like if you follow that piece of advice from George Bernard Shaw!
If you have any questions about how you can improve the clarity and tone of your business communications, contact me at email@example.com.
Sometimes, an expression that makes perfect sense to you is completely mystifying to the other person with whom you’re speaking. This happened to me just recently in a conversation I had recently with a prospective client who talked about his “financial footprint.” Actually, I was too embarrassed to ask what a “financial footprint” was. All I could envision in my mind’s eye was the outline of a shoe in the sand or even the mud, covered with dollar signs instead of the usual tread marks.
I really wasn’t sure what exactly he meant by this expression. Were his finances like footprints in the sand, likely to disappear when the next wave came along? Was he leaving too much money behind? Was he leaving too little money? Maybe you know what he was thinking and could enlighten me!
But this conversation got me thinking about other phrases, that I regularly hear from people in business, that make me uneasy. Rather than clarify meaning; these phrases obscure it.
Here’s another expression that I hear frequently that turns me off: “reaching out.” When a person in business whom I contact by phone says to me, “Thanks for reaching out,” my imagination runs wild. I envision myself, at that very moment, “reaching out” to save this person, standing on a precipice, from a nasty fall. Thank goodness I called just in time. So I ask, does “thanks for reaching out” simply mean “thanks for calling”? Or is there some deeper, more complex level of meaning that eludes me?
These days, business conversations are filled with expressions of this sort. Here are some examples:
- On a go forward basis
- Talk offline
- Engagement process
- Action a different outcome
- Leverage our industry-leading relationships
Do you know what these expressions mean? Some, I can guess at. “Engagement process,” has nothing to do with weddings, for example. And “action a different outcome” probably translates as “create a different result.” Or does it? With such imprecise language, it’s really difficult to know. Here are a few tips to help you improve your “professional-relationships” by using direct, clear language.
The Language Lab’s key to precise language
Choose action-oriented verbs: These are verbs that convey a specific meeting. Action-oriented verbs are important when building a resume, but they’re also needed in your daily business communications.
Avoid vague nouns: Vague nouns lead to unnecessarily complex sentences. Here are a few examples of the kinds of nouns not to use.
Avoid additional verbs: Why say, “My manager conducted an investigation into why we like to use jargon” when you could say, “My manager investigated why we like to use jargon.”
Choose the simple word: If you have the option to use a simple word rather than a complicated word, choose the simple word. People are more likely to understand you. (Or as the old joke goes, “eschew obfuscation.”)
Be direct: Why say, “We will endeavor to engage your team in the new online project” when you could say, “we hope to work with you on your website.”
Ultimately, the best way to communicate clearly is to keep language direct and simple. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Is that word necessary?” You may find the response you get from using clear, direct language is better than the response to jargon-laden phrases. In other words, you will have “actioned a different outcome”!
You can learn more about how to avoid business jargon that mystifies and communicate clearly and simply by signing up for one of our Language Lab courses.
There are a few things in life that most of us will admit to struggling with: speaking to a crowd, interviewing for a job, cooking dinner for twenty-five people. (Maybe only chefs find the last activity struggle-free!) But you wouldn’t think that I find writing a letter (or more likely an email) of introduction a struggle. But often I do.
I regularly find myself in the position of having to email someone I don’t know because a business colleague or a friend I do know has suggested that I contact the person regarding my company’s services. I always ask the colleague or the friend who made the referral if I can use her or his name. At least it gives me a clear point of connection. Yet, when I sit down to write the email saying “so and so thinks you would be interested in a business conversation with me,” I still find it challenging. The person at the other end doesn’t know me. It feels awkward and I’m not always sure how to grab their attention. It’s almost like making a cold call.
But I’ve come to realize that a well-structured email or letter of introduction can work beautifully. It can lead to a fruitful meeting with someone who may become a new client. Or it may just turn out to be an interesting networking experience. Either way, a good email of introduction can get you the meeting you want. It’s worked for me. So, I recommend the following steps as a guideline to achieving your goal:
1. Essential research: First, take a good look at the company or organization you want to do business with and try and get a clear idea of how your services or products might meet their needs.
2. Simple subject heading: One could dither for hours crafting an elaborate subject heading, but what I find works best is simply to use the name of the person who recommended me. That person is your bridge; he or she is familiar to the recipient. The recognition factor of his or her name means your email is more likely to be read.
3. Clarity of purpose: After reiterating that “so and so” has suggested you make contact, clearly (and briefly) explain what you do and how it could respond to the company’s particular needs.
4. Critical supporting documents: Attach a bio, and possibly a brief PowerPoint about your business, one that outlines three key points that differentiate your approach from your competitors. Provide specific indicators of success with previous clients, whether it’s statistical proof of increases in productivity and profits, or testimonials from satisfied customers.
5. Define the next step: That’s usually a meeting, whether by phone or in person (preferably the latter). But don’t leave it with a vague, “I’d really like to meet you sometime.” Suggest a specific time and date. If that particular date doesn’t work out, at least you have a starting point for determining a date that will.
Writing an email of introduction is a little bit like knocking on a door and hoping the person on the other side welcomes you in. And a cordial, professional email of introduction will certainly make the chances of that door swinging wide open, all the greater.
Most businesses recognize they should be using social media, but the trouble is very few businesses actually understand how to create effective social media communications for their business. It takes more than just a post to engage users and build social media traffic. So here are three tips to create an effective social media plan.
#1 You Need to be Real
Personal and professional branding is important and it should be based on authenticity. Your virtual brand promoted through social media and your real world brand need to match. The Web makes it harder to build the emotional connections that people like. So you need to be very clear in your communications to ensure that your message, with the focus you want, is understood. You also need to make sure there are no misunderstandings in the ‘tone’ of your message.
Sharing a bit of personal information periodically helps promote a connection between you and your prospects. It could be something as simple as sharing your love of gardening, gourmet cooking, or traveling to see the grandkids. Anything that helps people connect with you on a personal level will work.
You can also make it more personal by including your head shot in your profile. Let people see who the real you is and connect with that person.
#2 You Need to be Focused
The Internet with more than 4 billion pages and hundreds of different social media tools that you can use is vast. It’s impossible to try to make yourself visible everywhere. Actually, there is no need to do so. While I see some advancement in platforms like Google+ and Pinterest, trying to keep abreast of all the technology can be daunting. For the best business results, I suggest keeping with the more established platforms for business like LinkedIn, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter, and Facebook business pages. As you become more experienced with these sites, add in Google+ and YouTube as the next most focused sites for business traffic.
Most importantly, focus on who your market is and target those sites and that traffic. Find the top blogs in your niche; know which social media communities are favored in your niche; and create contact points so people can find you. By staying focused your energy is best placed where you can benefit the most.
#3 You Need to be Consistent
Whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, YouTube or other social media sites, you need to be consistent to build recognition and to make your brand memorable. Strong brands are always “out there,” and that’s exactly what you need to do. By using the same platform, look, and style, across the board, you’ll build that recognition.
When deciding on how often you will post and promote on social media, don’t overwhelm yourself and start by posting something every day. Setup a plan that is reasonable; something you can maintain or have someone maintain for you. You can quickly lose credibility by announcing your weekly blog only to end up posting only once a month. Be reasonable and be consistent for the best results.
There you have it – three simple ways to make the most out of social media for your business.
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Jeannine Clontz, IVAA CVA, MVA, EthicsChecked™, provides marketing and social media solutions to busy entrepreneurs. For information about finding a VA, download her FREE 10-Step Guide to Finding the Right VA, or to learn why Social Media should be an important part of your marketing plan with her FREE Report, Social Media Marketing Benefits, visit: http://www.internetmarketingvirtualassistant.net, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s hard to resist the attraction of the “red carpet” at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) every September. There’s something really compelling about watching Hollywood stars, people I usually see on the movie screen playing a role, as actual human beings.
This year I found myself thinking about how much those red carpet moments actually matter not just to the fans at TIFF, but also to the actors themselves. It’s an opportunity for them to interact with their audience. Even if it’s just a smile or a nod, it’s being there in the flesh, up close and personal.
The interesting thing though is that successful business communication also depends, to a degree, on that personal connection. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before in various blog posts. So in honor of TIFF, I decided to compile a kind of “best of” tips list about how to make a personal appeal to your “audience,” whether it’s a client, a boss or an employee.
How to get “up close and personal” in your business communication
1. Get physical: So much of our person-to-person contact is about how we connect physically. Do you make eye contact? Is your body posture confident and relaxed? Do your gestures underscore the points you want to make? See: Nonverbal Communication.
2. Be thoughtful: Choose your words carefully, using compelling language. Powerful language can help to create change, and influence other people. Always make sure that both your choice of words and your tone are appropriate for your audience. See: The Art of Persuasion: Key to Effective Communication.
3. Be a storyteller: A good deal of engaging communication is really about storytelling. Start a presentation, for example, with something personal, an anecdote. It makes people listen to what you have to say; it’s the “hook” that draws people in. And make it something from the heart, because ultimately it’s about trying to make a real human connection. See: Four Top Tips on How to Make Your Communication Impressive.
4. Be focused, and ask good questions: Good business communication is like a good conversation, and a good conversation depends largely on two things. One is paying attention and listening to the other person. Two is asking questions that draw that person out. The same applies to business communication. To be heard, understood, and responded to considerately is at the bottom of most high quality communication. See: How to Get the Answers You Want.
Remember; people in business, as in the rest of life, need personal interaction. And even if we never saunter down the red carpet wearing a designer outfit, it’s still good for business.
For more top tips on how to get “up close and personal” and be more effective in your communication, take advantage of our 15% fall discount and sign up for our popular business email writing course.
- Communication Training: Delivering Constructive Feedback
- Effective Business Communication: How Not to Offend
- Effective Business Communication: Precision is Key
- Effective Business Communication: How to Get the Meeting You Want