Whether you are a small business owner, an employee, or searching for a job, good written communication is critical. Our business world relies heavily on various forms of written communication on daily basis. Without the cues that accompany verbal communication, we can easily lose information in our written communication. This can cause frustration, lost business, and sometimes even lawsuits.
Fortunately, we can improve our written communication with a little effort. In fact, I recommend three small changes.
Is anything unclear?
“When you’re ready to go, come up here.”
This was the entire text message from my husband this past weekend. He was trimming back some tree limbs at the top of our driveway, where our cars reside when we are not driving them. I was getting ready to go to a macrame class (don’t judge. It’s fun.) My timeline was pretty tight, so I got ready and left the house with not a minute to spare.
As it turns out, “When you’re ready to go, come up here,” didn’t mean, “Don’t wait for me to come back down to the house. It’s fine for you to go ahead and leave,” which is how I construed it. Instead, my husband needed to have a conversation with me before I left. He had run into some difficulty with his project, and he wanted my opinion on how to proceed. When I left without talking to him, he was upset, because in his mind he had said everything he needed to say with his text message.
This brings us to small change #1: When you have finished your written communication, take a moment to read it and ask yourself if anything is unclear. Put yourself in the shoes of the intended recipient for a minute. Does your intended reader have all the information they need to understand what you mean by what you have written?
As I mentioned, my husband had encountered some issues while trimming the tree limbs, and he needed to speak with me. Along with the text message not being clear from my (the recipient’s) perspective, I did not know he needed a response from me (to speak with him before I left.)
This brings us to small change #2: Always include instructions for the recipient of your written communication. That can be as simple as adding “Please advise” to the end of it. If no action is required, let the recipient know that, too, with a simple “FYI” or “Just a heads up.”
If you don’t get a response, follow up
I didn’t realize until later my husband had sent a second text message: “Put the puppy in the crate.” Because I thought he was going to go down to the house immediately after I left, I left a nine-week-old Miniature Schnauzer pretty much unattended when I left.
And now we reach small change #3: If you have requested a response and do not get one, assume the intended recipient did not get your written communication. Cell phones don’t always ding. Sometimes email lands in a spam folder. We won’t even mention what can happen to letters and documents sent through the postal service. Set a reminder to check back in a certain amount of time if you send a written communication that needs a response from the recipient.
Small changes, amazing results
These three changes take seconds to implement. Forming the habit, though, can take a bit more time. I recommend putting a Post-It Note on your computer monitor to remind you to reread for clarity, include instructions, and schedule a follow-up, at least until this becomes second nature for you. It’s worth the little bit of extra effort to ensure neither you – nor the recipients of your written communication – are frustrated by undesired results.