3 Written Communication Hacks

09 October 2020

Communication is fundamental in all organisations, but when you’re in a remote environment, it’s even more important to ensure that communication within your team and among your colleagues is precise and results orientated.

It’s been said that communication is the “oxygen of a distributed company.” And that’s such a powerful analogy, because, in these times, having good communication strategies is non-negotiable for survival.

Just think about all the ways you used to communicate and collaborate with your team pre-COVID to get the job done: there was traditional face to face meetings, brainstorming around a whiteboard, popping into one’s office to ask a quick question, hashing out a tricky problem one-on-one over lunch, catching up in the break room, and many other small ways you bond and interact.

But now, the majority of the communication is online with written communication taking dominance. Therefore, the question is, how do you make these important written communications when your team and co-workers might be spread across different locations in these times? How do you write effectively to ensure clarity and a sense of purpose?

I believe that every subject matter has its own nuances and high performing executive pays attention to these nuances to make marginal gains. Every small improvement in your written communication across multiple team members helps the organisation in an exponential way!

The Communication landscape is constantly shifting. With fewer water cooler conversations and face-to-face interactions, there is more reliance on written communication. A very frequently asked question is; what are the best practices for written communication, to ensure that one is being an effective leader and effective communicator?

Today I want to share with you three very simple principles, more reminders for yourself to become an effective communicator.

The first one is, when you are writing an email, make sure that there is an appropriate and relevant subject line. It is a very commonly ignored factor, but it does make a huge difference, especially in these times, when you want to have the right trail and route back to previous communication.

Your subject line should ideally communicate the purpose of the email. Very simple, short and to the point.

The second thing is that, when you are writing your email, please don’t write the way you think or the way you talk. What I mean by that is, don’t just vomit. I’ve seen people just writing long paragraphs and towards the end, I don’t know what the call to action is.

Make sure that your written communication is:

  • Short
  • To the point – bullet points ideally
  • There is a clear call to action
  • The person knows that this is getting delegated to him or her

So, very clear delegation, clear timeline, short and bullet points.

There is a very famous saying and I’m sure I’m not saying it verbatim, where a poet wrote to his friend saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to write you a short letter.”

Writing concise, precise and to the point actually takes time. It really requires reflection and just putting it all out there, it is easy, but it is not effective.

Be very mindful, look at your email, read it from other person’s perspective.

Coming to the third point, this is a subtle point but an interesting one.

In your written communication, make sure that, if not all, most of your emails have the word because. You have to use this, because it clarifies the purpose of your request or your communication.

In fact, it’s based on a very famous study, which was done in 1970s. The study is called the Xerox Study.

They basically did study or research to identify, what is the best way to request people or to communicate to people, to get the job done. They had three statements and they used it on people and tested the response rate, how many people agreed to their request.

The first one they said, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

The second was “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?” That was the second one. There was no because.

The third one was “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” Now that is interesting, I mean, how redundant is that third statement?

The interesting bit here is that the first statement got the compliance rate of 94 %.

And the second statement where there was no because, got the compliance rate of 60 %.

That is a substantial difference. Just imagine in your organization if you could actually have that jump from 60 to 94.

The interesting bit is, the third statement, which is actually a superfluous redundant statement, especially after because, actually got the compliance rate of 93%. Very similar to the first statement.

It is the power of the word because and I am not saying that you be superfluous in your communication, that is not the idea at all. The purpose here is again to explain, why you need to use the word because, because people need to understand where you are coming from. Not simply your implied intention, but where exactly you are coming from.

They are all intelligent individuals and they want to understand the logic behind it.

To recap, the 3 key hacks are:

  1. Make sure that your subject line is appropriate, relevant and communicates, in short, the purpose of the email, easy to track back and follow through.
  2. Make sure your email body is concise, precise, very to the point, bullet points ideally, with a very clear call to action and timelines.
  3. Use the word because, because it makes your email content more effective.

I hope that helps, enjoy practicing this and seeing the increase in clarity within your organization.

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