Blunder BUST

Features - Professional Development

Four critical tips to boost your writing skills to get yourself out of a professional jam and rebuild credibility.

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August 19, 2020

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I wish I could rewind the clock and do it differently, laments Bob, CEO of a mid-size organization. A week earlier he had sent out an internal memo warning that things were about to change. Their entire industry would soon be affected due to emerging government regulations.

The day after the memo was sent, worst case scenarios were circulating throughout the company. The gossip mill was in full swing. Fear quickly spread to vendors and customers. Within 48 hours, Bob had hundreds of emails from concerned workers, vendors and customers.

What could Bob have done differently? He shared the information he had at the time. The truth is he didn’t have much information from the Feds, and he should have been upfront with people that he was also in the dark. Bob also underestimated the importance of doing more than sharing facts. To make matters worse, his memo wasn’t very warm and friendly.

For the past two decades, Bob had focused on building a loyal team around him. He had worked hard to build their trust and was confident he had achieved it. Now, with one poorly written document, he was surprised to see how quickly that trust could erode.

Here’s what also surprised Bob: How differently employees read written communication during times of stress and change.

Bob made some critical blunders during his decision-making process. However, you don’t have to repeat his mistakes. As a leader, you can build trust during turbulent times. Here are four essential writing tips to guide you through this process.

Tip #1: Choose every word carefully.

This is critical. During times turbulent times, every word you write to your employees about the crisis will be scrutinized.

The Blunder: He used ‘unfortunate’ in his memo. Employees obsessed about the use of this word, convinced it reflected some dire meaning.

Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, could my reader derive some unintended meaning from my wording? If you are not sure, get a second opinion! (or third or fourth!)

Tip #2: Make a human connection.

It has been said that people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel. This also applies to written communication. During turbulent times, employees look to leaders for reassurance and empathy. Conveying a human connection through writing fosters trust in leadership.

The Blunder: Bob’s memo came across as uncaring to employees since it lacked any expression of emotion.

Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, what expression of genuine emotion could I share with my readers to let them know I care?

Tip #3: Be transparent.

When you don’t have the full information to share, be willing to honesty explain your constraints. If you do not show transparency, you risk breaching the reader’s trust. In your writing, what you leave unsaid can be as important as what you say.

The Blunder: Bob’s memo left many questions unanswered. Bob failed to share with his readers that he was limited by the lack of information he was receiving from his source, the federal government.

Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I articulated why I can’t provide more detail?

Tip #4: More is better.

During a crisis, people can get overwhelmed. This reduces their ability to retain information. Your message may get lost. To ensure your communication is received, aim to increase the frequency of writing to employees about important issues. Repetition is key. Find ways to communicate important messages in different ways on a frequent basis during turbulent times.

The Blunder: Bob waited a few weeks between his first and second written communication about the changes and this caused concern among employees.

Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I communicated how I will continue to keep people updated?

It has been said that the only constant in life is change. This may be truer than ever. How you communicate in writing during turbulent times can leave a lasting impression on those within your organization and beyond. Your people are watching not just what you do, but how you do it. By following these four tips, you can leave a lasting legacy within your organization – one that you will not look back and regret like Bob did.

Dr. Julie Miller is President of Business Writing that Counts! Focuses on increasing clients’ bottom line by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of employees’ writing.