As we wrap up our series on improved workplace communication, we focus today on style.
Now that you know your message (your one key point) and you know your audience (what type of language and how much detail you should provide), it’s time to know your style (how you present the material).
“I survived another meeting that should have been an email,” reads the popular coffee mug.
That’s what you’re trying to avoid here… meetings that should be emails and emails that should be meetings. Because either way, you lose your audience.
It’s important to get the level of formality right because it sets the tone. Choosing how formally you present your message tells as much as or more than the words themselves.
Consider the uncomfortable situation of reprimanding an employee. No one likes to be on either end of it, but sometimes it cannot be avoided.
When that happens, choosing the level of formality can make all the difference. Calling a formal meeting with an employee over a minor mistake can make her feel “dressed down,” belittled or intimidated. Rather than simply correcting her behavior, she may now feel on edge, waiting for the next time she gets in trouble over something small. She loses effectiveness.
On the other hand, if she willfully bypasses agency policy and costs the department money as a result, simply telling her to “be more careful next time” as you pass each other at the water cooler will not help her understand the seriousness of the issue.
Similarly, the same message given to the same audience in a different setting will be received differently. Having a casual conversation over coffee to tell your subordinate that there is a bit of a budget issue to address suggests that the problem is a hiccup, not much to worry about.
Call that same subordinate into your office and tell him to close the door, and that “bit of a budget issue” becomes a lot more pressing in his mind. He sees everything as potential cost savings and worries if budget cuts could cost him his job.
Writing or Speaking
There are several factors to consider when determining whether you should write or speak your message. If the topic may be easily misunderstood, writing can allow you to plan out in great detail exactly what you need to say. It allows you to cover all your bases. It ensures everyone gets the same message and can be kept for reference should there be questions later.
Speaking, however, allows you to adjust your message as you interact with your audience member(s). If you see confusion or fear on their faces, you can open up for questions or provide reassurances. Speaking tends to generate feedback more easily than writing.
Many times, especially in planning stages, it’s advantageous to have a conversation first and follow it with a written summary. This allows the involved parties to work out the details, and then provide a written recap for record keeping. You have the benefit of quick and easy feedback initially, with assurances that all recipients received the same message in the end.
Choosing formality, setting and whether to write or speak are just a few factors to consider when deciding how to share what you have to say. The more aspects you can address, the more likely you are to enjoy success.
This short series is by no means meant to make anyone perfect or a professional writer. But knowing your message, your audience and your style before you start can make your communication more effective. In the end, isn’t that what’s most important?
For those wishing to study communication skills in depth, there are several low-cost training programs available online, including this 27-hour bestseller: The Complete Communication Skills Masterclass for Life.
Personal note to my fellow word nerds: There’s nothing like the joy of reading a beautifully turned phrase; misspellings or incorrect word usage can be an assault on the eyeballs.
I beg you, however, please don’t let perfection destroy a message.
The point of words and grammar rules is to communicate a message. There are times when violating the rules truly makes the message hard to understand; there are times though – especially on social media – when “grammar nazis” can’t see past a “your” where a “you’re” should be, and they completely miss the entire message because of it. Please don’t let that be you. The rules are there to facilitate communication, not stand in the way of it. Language is beautiful, but communication that connects is exquisite.
Lisa Salinas is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.