Today's post comes from Mary Johnstun, president and founder of Lexicon and Line.
When I was young, the concept of Santa Claus “making a list and checking it twice” always fascinated me. The idea that Santa is extremely thorough in his list making assumes the obvious – nothing is getting by this guy. There’s a list for goodness sake. He's going to check things…twice! To this day, when the song pops up on my carefully-crafted holiday Amazon Music station, that line always rings out loud and true.
When it comes to communicating in the workplace, we all need to embrace our inner Santa Claus by checking our work twice. The words (written or spoke) you gift to others, have the power to inform, describe, clarify, persuade, or encourage.
When you craft and send a well-written (or perfectly spoken) communication, you are giving the recipient the gift of clarity and connection. Imagine the receiver opening your gift. “Wow!” their brain proclaims, “I totally get what this person is saying. This is thoughtful and clear and look – they took the time to edit it. It’s perfect! Moving on.”
Sure, in a given work day when one consumes thousands upon thousands of words a day, no coworker, colleague, or client is actually going to respond in such a fashion. However, recall a recent encounter when you received an unclear, unedited, or under-developed email, report, or proposal. I bet your brain stumbled a bit upon processing it. Your thoughts paused. Perhaps you had to re-read it to understand what was being conveyed. The editing errors stood out as being sloppy and unprofessional. Essentially, and without your conscious decision to do so, your brain likely became busy unpacking more than the sender’s message. Your brain became distracted as it processed the coal it’s just received. “Why did I get this?” it grumbled. “What I really wanted was…”
In this scenario, had the message been checked twice before being sent, you would have just been able to process the content quickly and clearly. Communication errors get in the way of connecting the message sent with the one received.
What does “checking it twice” mean when it comes to writing in the workplace? Consider the following quick tips for embracing your inner Santa Claus as you tackle your day to day professional communications:
Re-read your writing before sending it. Don’t glimpse it or scan it. Don’t solely rely on spell check. Read it again, word for word. If it’s a high-stakes communication, find a quiet corner and read it aloud.
While you shouldn’t rely solely on spell check for your final review, always utilize spell check. We love the writing app Grammarly. Install the free version and reap the benefits.
Take a look for your “big points” – the ones you absolutely don’t want your audience to miss. Are they front and center? Are they worded clearly and carefully?
Skim for tone. Are you communicating to the receiver in an appropriate manner?
Skim for unnecessary text. Have you repeated yourself? Are you mixing too many messages? Are you supplying unnecessary information? Consider the recipient’s time and be thoughtful of it.
If you and your employees need some help with writing, contact us today!
In our last post, we highlighted mistakes that torpedo your business communication. This time we’re getting a little more specific and focusing on research. There’s not one correct way to conduct a survey – no magical formula to follow – but there plenty of ways to do it incorrectly. Look below for a list of six common survey mistakes we’ve seen time and time again, and be sure to read the details under each to learn how to avoid them.
Common survey mistake no. 1: Using biased language.
Want valid results? Keep your language neutral. The words you choose have a direct impact on the way people answer. Similarly, if you want to know how people really feel, you have to provide a range of responses that allows them to accurately express their opinions.
Common survey mistake no. 2: Bundling words.
.Watch out for bundled words. We often tie different concepts together without realizing it. Let’s say you’re gathering feedback from employees regarding their supervisor. You might ask whether they feel their boss is “honest and transparent” – but that would be a mistake. A person can be very honest but hesitant to share what’s on their mind. If you want to measure honesty and transparency, you’ll need to include two separate questions.
Common survey mistake no. 3: Providing answer options that overlap
Provide clear answer options that are mutually exclusive. One common survey mistake is to provide ranges of numbers that actually overlap, making it impossible to trust your results. Here’s an example of how to do this the WRONG way:
In the last 30 days, how many times have you used Product X?
And here’s how to ask the same question properly:
In the last 30 days, how many times have you used Product X?
Common survey mistake no. 4: Failing to give respondents an option they feel comfortable with.
This next tip is related to the last one: With rare exceptions, it’s a bad idea to force people into selecting an answer they’re not comfortable with. In essence, they feel like they have to lie. Instead, include options like “Other” and “N/A.” You might lose a few responses to individual questions, but your respondents will be more likely to finish the survey. Some data is better than none!
Common survey mistake no. 5: Asking irrelevant questions.
Be sure to ask the right questions of the right people. Conditional logic is a great way to reduce the burden on survey respondents and get just the answers you need. It’s a great practice to include some questions up front that funnel respondents into a set of highly relevant survey items, but double-check that every question makes sense in context. Otherwise your respondents might check out.
Common survey mistake no. 6: Doing it yourself when you really shouldn’t.
While it’s tempting to cut costs and attempt to do it yourself, consider the benefits of working with an expert partner. You can expect increased participation due to a heightened sense of confidentiality among respondents; professional reporting and sensemaking; and, of course, a huge reduction in the time you or your staff have to spend on research and analysis. While we would, of course, encourage you to reach out to Lexicon & Line for your survey needs, there are plenty of established research and consulting firms with the experience and expertise to develop a valid and reliable survey instrument that’s tailored to your organization.
Stripped down to its essence, communication is the exchange of information from point A to point B. Simple, right? But as anyone who’s played a game of “Telephone” knows, a lot can go wrong on the journey from sender to receiver. This article will list five business communication mistakes that will sink your messages in a hurry—if you let them.
Business communication mistake #1: Using the wrong tone for the audience
Many business communication mistakes can be avoided simply by considering your audience before writing your first word. When composing an email, it’s smart to be fairly formal unless you have an established relationship with an individual and understand their preferences.
Think about the mindset your recipient is likely to be in when they read your words. Think about your own mindset. If emotions are running high, step away and come back when you’re calm.
Remember that the tone you set in your written communication should reflect the tone you want to set for your brand, whether you are an individual or represent a business.
Business communication mistake #2: Communicating without a clear focus or purpose
Readers give the average email (if opened at all) an average of three seconds of attention. Electronic communication in general has conditioned us to have shorter attention spans. As a result, it’s more important than ever to consider the purpose of your communication and state it clearly, right up front, to ensure the reader can decide right away that your communication is relevant to them.
In an email, developing focus starts with the subject line. In 50 characters or less, use your subject line to:
If you can’t identify a clear purpose for writing, don’t waste your recipient’s time.
Business communication mistake #3: Not using the proper organization or formatting
Readers like it when ideas are communicated in a logical way, and according to the norms of the medium. A written report, for example, should include strong topic sentences; clear subject lines; headings and subheadings; lists and bullet points; and tables, charts, and infographics when they make sense. Regardless of medium, a wall of text is rarely inviting. Break up text with white space, images, and color, but don’t be haphazard. Be consistent with fonts and colors. If your business doesn’t have a style manual or brand guide, it’s a good idea to create one.
Business communication mistake #4: Failing to appropriately develop your ideas.
When crafting your message, be like Aristotle, the ancient philosopher who famously sought balance in all things. Aim to provide just the right amount of information—not too much and not too little—and to convey your knowledgeability and professionalism without coming across as a know-it-all.
Speaking of the Greeks, it’s always a good idea to employ the principles of rhetoric they developed more than two millennia ago. Consider the three rhetorical appeals shown in the graphic below. Individuals might respond more strongly to one rhetorical appeal or another, but in general, successful communication achieves a balance between all three.
For more information about the rhetorical appeals, read this brief overview from Louisiana State University.
Business communication mistake #5: Neglecting to properly edit your message.
Poor (or nonexistent) editing can ruin an otherwise perfect piece with focus, the correct tone, great organization, and well developed ideas. If spelling and grammar aren’t your thing, that’s perfectly fine! Own up to it and put procedures in place to ensure you’re sending the best communication possible. When you can, engage another reader who has strong writing skills. Otherwise, consider using tools such as Grammarly that go beyond the spelling and grammar checking features built into office software and web browsers. If you realize you’ve made a mistake, catalogue it so you can avoid it next time.
Elevating your business communication to the next level takes time and effort but is worth the reward. Here at Lexicon & Line, we’re passionate about helping agencies, businesses, colleges, and non-profits better connect with those they serve. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you improve communication in your workplace, reach out to us. We look forward to hearing from you!
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Although these words were written in 1776, they still resonate with many today. But looking at the text of the Declaration of Independence through a modern lens, it’s not hard to spot a rather large problem: the Founding Fathers left out about 50% of the population.
Why is it important to avoid gendered language in business communication?
Being inclusive means considering a number of factors as they relate to your colleagues, coworkers, and clients—race, sexuality, and age, to name a few. Each factor is becoming increasingly important as businesses (and businessowners) become more diverse.
Business was once almost exclusively the domain of men, but no more. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 11.6 million firms are owned by women; women-owned businesses generate $1.7 trillion in sales each year; and women-owned businesses employ nearly nine million people.
In addition, more and more businesses are owned by (or employ) individuals who are non-binary or genderfluid. With so much diversity in the workplace, there is no good reason for your professional writing to be stuck in the 18th century.
So how do I write without using gendered language?
The bad news is you might have to break some long-standing habits and form some new ones. The good news is, you probably already incorporate some tactics that reduce gender bias, whether you intended to or not!
Just to jog your memory, pronouns are words like “she” or “him” that take the place of a person’s name. The English language doesn’t have a gender-neutral version, but it’s become perfectly acceptable in recent years (even according to style manuals such as Chicago and Associated Press) to use “they” or “them” or “theirs” as a substitute. The nice thing about using they/them/theirs is they can help you say something more quickly and in a more inclusive way. In fact, you might already be using them just to save time and keystrokes. Here’s an example:
When he or she calls the office, please transfer him or her to me.
When they call the office, please transfer them to me.
When communicating with an individual, it’s important to use their preferred pronoun. If you are making initial contact with someone and are unsure of which pronoun to use, one way to find out is to share your own pronouns, thus offering an invitation for them to share as well. Check out this example from the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University:
Hello, my name is [insert], and my pronouns are she/her/hers; he/him/his; or they/them/theirs; etc.
Watch out for words with “man”
All sorts of nouns are based around the word “man,” and pretty much all of them should set off alarm bells if you want to be gender-inclusive. Instead of man-made, say “artificial” or “synthetic”. There are all sorts of examples, but here are some good ones compiled by The Writing Center at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill:
Being gender-inclusive in your writing isn’t a huge undertaking; it’s just a matter of being a little more thoughtful and intentional every time you click the “Compose” button.
Need more help with inclusion?
We hope these tips will help you feel more confident in your business communication. If you feel as though your business would benefit from more training on inclusion and diversity—or if you would like to know how to evaluate how inclusive your business is—reach out to us using this handy form. We'd love to hear from you!