Read an Excerpt
Best Practices: Communicating Effectively
Write, Speak, and Present with Authority
Communicating Clearly in Writing
What is your game plan, and does your team know it? Just like a coach in sports, you as manager are charged with guiding a team of individuals toward its collective goal. Successful execution depends on your capacity to communicate this game plan clearly.
You need to be sure all team members read from the same playbook. Each player's role and responsibilities must be meticulously defined. The coaching and instruction you give must be delivered accurately and with the right timing. Nothing good happens if communication falters. A championship-caliber game plan is worthless if the coach sends the wrong signals to the players.
If you are reading this book to improve your ability to communicate, you obviously see the link between strong communication skills and career success. In this book you will find advice for developing your own "communications playbook." It is not intended to be exhaustive, and its aim is simple: to provide digestible bites of information to help you gain confidence and master the art of both written and oral communication. No matter how high-tech and diverse communication technologies become, they can reach their full potential only when used by a good writer or speaker.
The Basics of Communicating in Writing
The need to write clearly and thoughtfully arises in virtually every situation you face as a manager.Good writing, in fact, is one of the most highly prized competencies. An e-mail, memo, letter, or formal report each has its own special requirements, butfundamental principles apply to all business writing: planning before writing, using correct grammar, knowing your audience, understanding the purpose of your writing, striking the right tone, and revising and editing.
Research and Planning
Before you start writing, gather all the information required to craft an effective message. Consult whatever business intelligence you will need—such as sales forecasts, customer history, industry trends, and other applicable information—so you can back up your statements directly in your correspondence or report. For weighty matters, you may need to do more extensive research to buttress the points you intend to make.
Whether research is needed depends greatly on your subject and the people to whom you are writing. Doing research at a library or performing a detailed search using the Internet is usually sufficient to back up your points with hard facts. In communications within a department or organization, such research may be unnecessary. But supporting your correspondence or sales materials to prospective customers with relevant business information helps win their confidence and can help generate new business.
Before you write, map out the information you plan to share and why you are doing so. Start by jotting down notes on paper and then highlighting the key issues you want to emphasize.
The note-taking process is helpful in two ways. First, the act of writing itself tends to stimulate ideas or concepts you had not previously considered—scholars call this "emergent information." Second, seeing ideas in front of you makes it easier to sort out the most essential details and organize them in a logical order. Keep similar items and ideas together. This will help you recognize repetition or determine in what form the information can best be communicated.
Grammar, Language, and Style
Regardless of the form in which you are writing—say, a casual e-mail, a formal letter, or a report—you should always aim to write with clarity and simplicity. For example, rather than writing that your company is "interested in aligning the potentialities of your company with our long-standing reputation as a global innovator," write that your company "has a strong reputation as an innovator. We should discuss how we can benefit each other by joining forces."
In writing, less is often more—keep it short and to the point. Always use correct grammar and accurate language. If you feel this is one of your weak areas, keep a standard grammar and style book such as The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White by your desk.
Rules of grammar and writing were developed so that we could all understand one another. In contexts where accurate and respectful communication is important, these rules can assume greater weight than they do in day-to-day affairs. Some people are sticklers for minutiae when reading business correspondence. Here are some of the most common mistakes writers make:
Wrong use of contractions. "It's" is a contraction for "it is." "Its" (no apostrophe) indicates the possessive case of the impersonal pronoun. For example:
The hotline number is now operating. Its purpose is to provide better communication with our customers. It's imperative that all messages left on the hotline be answered within one business day.
The contraction "they're" and the plural possessive "their" are also often used incorrectly. The following example illustrates the misuses of "it's" and "they're":
The company is sending out it's orders today. Customers should receive they're orders next week.
The company is sending out its orders today. Customers should receive their orders next week.
Overuse of commas and comma splicing. Commas can be used as pauses between major ideas in sentences. If possible, keep them to a minimum. Also, do not string or splice together complete sentences with only a comma when a logical connecting word or phrase is needed. "I think, I am" is a comma splice. The missing word makes all the difference: "I think, therefore I am."
Failure to hyphenate properly. A "small business problem" is quite different from a "small-business problem." Written without hyphens, the phrase would not be clear. Is the problem a small one or is it one typically found in small businesses? In general, two nouns used together to modify another noun are hyphenated (for example, time-management skills).
Less versus fewer. Use "less" for entities that are difficult or impossible to count—snow, rain, time, money. Use "fewer" for terms that can be counted—meetings, managers, machines. Keep in mind these particular correct usages: "We spent less money this month" and "the newer machines take fewer coins."Best Practices: Communicating Effectively
Write, Speak, and Present with Authority. Copyright © by Garry Kranz. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.