14 Jan This week, you will choose your communication proposal topic from these options: Internal Promotion New Job Opportunity In
This week, you will choose your communication proposal topic from these options:
- Internal Promotion
- New Job Opportunity Interview
- Pitching a Project Idea
- Mini TED Talk
- Topic of Your Choice Approved by Your Professor
Reading Chapter 2 in Business Writing Today will help you identify your short- and long-range goals to decide the right proposal topic for you. Use the chapter to help you choose your topic and analyze your audience. Pick something that you are passionate about that can be applied to your life.
- Explain both your topic choice and audience analysis.
- Ask questions and get help from your classmates and professor.
- Be sure to respond to at least one of your classmates' posts.
WRITE TO ACCOMPLISH GOALS2
Communication is a skill you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rap- idly improve the quality of every part of your life.
—Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group
Yes, it’s how to get things done, open doors and connect with people and immediate opportunities. But effective writing does far more than accomplish the goal of the moment: It’s a powerful tool for achieving your long-range ambitions, a tool to use consciously.
From e-mails to proposals to blogs to résumés, every mes- sage offers a chance to build toward your future. The better your writing, the more you succeed. Writing gives you one of the best ways to showcase your strengths and demonstrate your value. In the digital age it’s a key tool for building and sustaining good relationships.
This chapter gives you a framework for planning all your documents and making the right decisions about content, structure and style.
HOW AND WHY TO PLAN YOUR MESSAGES
Successful writers don’t just plunge into any written communication—first, they plan. And always, they begin with two questions that guide them through every decision.
Question 1: What’s my goal? What do I want?
Question 2: Who—exactly—is the audience: the person or group I’m writing to?
When you define your goal and consider your reader, it becomes much easier to figure out the content—the facts, ideas or arguments that will produce the results you want. And when you systematically determine content, organizing your message becomes a more natu- ral process. So does choosing the right language and tone.
LEARN HOW TO . . .
• View writing as a strategic tool
• Communicate based on goals
• Frame messages for your audiences
• Manage differences in perspective
• Write to groups, gatekeepers and the universe
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16 Part I • How to Communicate in Writing
Whether writing an e-mail, profile, report or speech, professional writers base their approach on how the factors of goal and audience intersect. Thinking this way may mean spending more time up front than you’re used to. However, you save the time that you might otherwise spend floundering around for what to say and how to say it. Moreover, if you plan first, your results are so much better—immediately—that you won’t begrudge the thinking time.
But why does even a “simple” e-mail merit such thought? Perhaps you’ve wished you could un-click Send after delivering one of these:
• a carelessly written message to a superior or colleague that is forwarded right up the company ladder
• an embarrassing private e-mail to a friend that was widely circulated
• a badly executed cover letter that showed up on the Internet as a laughable example
• a message meant for one person that mistakenly reached a whole group, or someone who particularly should not have seen it, like a competitor
The consequences can be dire. Remember the long run, too. E-mails never go away. As we see in scandal after scandal in the corporate and political worlds, they can usually be retrieved to disgrace or, in worst-case scenario, indict you. Social media platforms also encourage us to be careless because they too are so easy to use and value spontaneity. But the instant delivery feature of digital media does not mean you should communicate without thought. Ever.
Building a great reputation in any setting is a step-by-step, sustained process. Every mes- sage is an opportunity to present yourself in the way you want to be seen. In fact, because everyday channels are so important to the constant communication flow in nearly every organization, they offer a stellar chance to showcase your skills and create a good impression.
Let’s look at our two basic questions in more depth.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY YOUR SHORT- AND LONG-RANGE GOALS
Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.
Look Past the Obvious
In our early education, most of us had the same goal for a writing assignment, whether a term paper, book review, report or essay: Please the teacher and get a good grade. But in the business world, you need to know your goal for every piece of writing. What do you want to accomplish with the document? What’s the desired outcome? What do you want the person to do as a result of your message?
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This can be trickier than it looks at first glance. Suppose, for example, you’re coordinat- ing a department workshop on a new software system. It will be held at lunch time, and it’s a must-attend, so you might just write:
Subject: Mandatory IT workshop March 7
On Thursday, March 7, noon to 1 p.m., plan on attending IT’s workshop on the new Mannerly System software, which will be rolled out company-wide May 1. All staff members are expected to attend. Please acknowledge receipt of this message.
You may have received similar notices. How did you react? Were you enthusiastic? Happy to give up your lunch time? Probably not. So when you’re the writer, you can easily predict how people who receive such a message will feel. They’ll show up because they must, but is that really the outcome you want? The session will be much more productive if people come in a positive frame of mind and motivated to learn. So your message might better say:
Subject: For everyone: IT Workshop, March 7
This Thursday at 2:00 p.m., IT will show us everything we need to know about the Mannerly System software we’ll all use starting May 1. The experts will demonstrate how Mannerly can cut your report prep time by 20% and give you instant access to backup data on demand. In addition to giving you a general grounding, the demo will show you how to apply this cutting-edge system to your own needs. All hands on deck for this one—please confirm you’ll be there.
This version presents the meeting enthusiastically—enthusiasm is contagious!—and energizes the readers: The event is framed as a good opportunity with clear benefit to them. The topic sounds relevant rather than boring. The message sets a team feeling in the first sentence instead of a dictatorial one, and it personalizes what follows by writing in terms of “you” instead of the indifferent third person language of the first version.
But if you’re addressing people with whom you have different relationships, or who work on different levels, there’s more to consider. Their status, stake in the subject and expected contribution to the meeting should be taken into account. Version 2 sounds like it’s addressed to subordinates. If you’re writing to people over whom you have no authority, an invitational tone rather than a command, no matter how team oriented, is more appropriate.
A message to the department head might begin like this:
Dear Joan: I’ve set up the training on the Mannerly system for Thursday at 2:00 p.m., in line with your schedule. The whole department will participate. I’ve put your intro first on the agenda, which is attached. OK?
On the job, you want even a simple message to reinforce your professional image with superiors, colleagues, collaborators, suppliers and everyone else you’re writing to. It should
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18 Part I • How to Communicate in Writing
contribute to your relationships in a positive way. Well-written messages advance your orga- nization’s interests—and your own long-range goals.
In the meeting announcement example, then, the goal includes bringing people to the event in the frame of mind you want so it produces the best results. If defining “goal” appears more complex than you expected, and sounds like a lot of weight for an ordinary e-mail to carry, how much thought should go into a complex document like a proposal or report?
Often, quite a lot. But fortunately, the process you’re learning applies to every kind of document, both digital and print, and can soon be applied intuitively. Practice with every- day materials pays off with the “important” documents. At heart, good writing is good thinking, so developing your writing skills helps you in many ways. You’re better able to define and solve problems, understand and engage others, manage their perceptions and inf luence their actions. And as will emerge later in this book, skill with writing provides the best basis for successful oral and visual communication.
Define Goals to Shift Your Vision
When you closely identify a document’s purpose—or the role it plays to accomplish a purpose—you gain surprisingly helpful insights. The cover letter you write for a proposal, for example, need not bear the burden of selling your product or service. It just needs to set the stage for the reader to view the proposal itself in a favorable light and demonstrate that you’ve read the specs carefully and understand the problem.
Similarly, cover letters for résumés needn’t summarize your credentials. Aim to promote the reviewer’s interest in reading the résumé by highlighting what a good match you are with the job (and by showing that you write well). The résumé’s job, in turn, is to gain entree to the next step, usually an interview.
Clear goals give you clear guidelines, whatever the medium. And articulating your set of goals can save you from falling into a lot of common traps and unnecessary mistakes.
Put Your Goals Analysis to Work
Here’s how to begin your new systematic writing strategy: Practice defining the goal of every message you write on as many levels that apply. Write them down. Writing sharpens our thinking and pushes us to be more specific.
Here are some examples of goals for the meeting invitation:
1. Move people to show up: This is the basic action or response you want from readers.
2. Motivate people: You want them to recognize the subject’s importance and approach it enthusiastically, ready to learn. This is the below-surface response you need.
3. Produce a successful event: Preparing everyone to use a new system and work more efficiently is the organization’s goal and your responsibility.
4. Create a positive impression on your superiors, peers and subordinates: Building this is your personal long-range goal.
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Goal 4 is always important because when you’re conscious of your personal goals, you automatically act in line with them.
You recognize opportunities you might otherwise overlook for a productive contact or an extra assignment. And you see ways to build toward your goals in almost every message you write, whether an e-mail or a report or a presentation.
Consider this example: Bill has been elected a board member of his professional association. No one ran against
him, so he doesn’t take it seriously at first. He dashes off a memo to his boss:
Mark, guess what? I’m now on the WBEL board. LOL?
Then he thinks some more and realizes he has an opportunity to
• raise his profile in the department,
• strengthen his relationship with the person he reports to, and
• perhaps bring himself to the attention of higher-ups in a positive light.
He rewrites it this way:
Mark, I’m happy to report that I am now a WBEL board member. I was elected last night. As of June, I’ll be involved in all the decision making about programs and venues and, of course, look forward to contributing our company perspective and making new contacts for us.
The inauguration lunch is on May 1, and I’d be honored if you would come as my personal guest. Can you attend?
This message is likely to accomplish all three of Bill’s goals. Note, of course, that the goals you make evident in a piece of writing must not be at
odds with those of your employer––unless you’re aiming to lose your job. Let’s assume for now that your goals and those of your employer are basically aligned (though the more aware you are of your own long-term goals, the more selective you’ll feel about where you want to work and what you want to work at).
Aim in all your messages to pursue both your employer’s goals and your own. That doesn’t suggest you should work in self-promotional statements. It means, in all your communications, take the trouble to write as you want to be perceived. Write thought- fully, using techniques demonstrated in this book, and you own the power to build your image over time as someone who’s valuable, resourceful, reliable, creative, responsive . . . whatever—you fill in the blanks.
If you plan to run your own business, either as a side gig or full-time, your degree of success depends largely on how well you communicate. Messages must be even more consistent and agile than when you work for someone else—you simply don’t
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win the jobs otherwise. Nor can you collaborate or lead without good communication. The principles and thinking process apply equally to every kind of enterprise and industry.
So far, it’s been all about “you.” Now let’s move on to “the other”—the person or group you’re writing to.
STEP 2: ANALYZE YOUR AUDIENCE SYSTEMATICALLY
Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mind-set and find out how other people think and feel. It may not make you a better person in all spheres of life, but it will be a source of continuing kindness to your readers.
—Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard and chair of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel
Why Audience Analysis Is Key
When it comes down to it, most messages ask for something. The request may be basic:
Please send me technical specs for your Model G.
A request may be implicit rather than stated:
Please read this message and absorb the information in it.
Or a request can be overt, asking for agreement or action:
Let’s get together next Tuesday to plan the agenda.
Can we delay the project deadline so we can collect more bids?
If you’re asking anyone for something—even if it’s only to pay attention to the content— you want your message to be properly received and hopefully acted upon. So you must com- municate in terms the reader can hear, understand and relate to. Moreover, you must usually give the reader something he wants, or considers desirable, for your request to succeed.
If, for example, you want your supervisor to move you to a better office, you need to match your message to who she is and what argument will make sense to her. Will she care that the move makes the office workf low more efficient? That it better ref lects the staff hierarchy? That you’ll be able to concentrate better or be closer to her office? Does she show concern for staff members’ well-being and happiness? To succeed, you must take account of such factors and more.
People are different—in how they perceive, what they value, what they care about and how they make decisions. But there is one universal to count on: self-interest. We react to
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Chapter 2 • Write to Accomplish Goals 21
things and make decisions based on “what’s in it for me” (marketers call this WIIFM). This doesn’t suggest that people are selfish and ungenerous; they may be motivated by a humanitarian cause, an ideal or belief, or a commitment to what’s good for other people or the organization they serve or the world at large, above everything else.
In the practical world, even charities and government offices run on business think- ing. They must operate efficiently, be well perceived by their stakeholders, use resources well. However, decisions are made by individuals who interpret matters differently. If your department head cares about the quarterly profit and loss statement, it isn’t smart to suggest a workplace improvement because it would make people happy and expect to succeed— unless you could prove that happy people are more productive. If you want to persuade employees that a new benefit is as good as the one it replaced, telling them how much the company saves gets you nowhere. They want to know how their lives will improve—or at least not suffer—in real-world terms.
The bottom line is that in addition to defining “what do I want” for each message you write, you need to systematically analyze “who is the person I want it from”––your audi- ence. It’s the only way to determine your best content: the facts and ideas that will achieve your goal with the individual or group you’re addressing; what to emphasize; and what lan- guage, structure and tone will help this message succeed.
How to Deliver a Message: in Person? In Writing?
This book is about writing, but remember that a writ- ten message is not always your best option. A con- versation is often better, in person or by telephone or online as practical. Especially if the subject is personal, or requires some give and take—such as negotiating for a raise or opportunity—you’ll achieve more if you can read and respond to the other per- son’s questions and subtle reactions. If you have a problem with a coworker, resolving it in person is
far better than a written complaint. Especially when you start a new job or role in an organization, resist over-relying on written messages. Build a person- to-person pattern of interaction. Walk down the hall, introduce yourself and look for chances to hold one- on-one conversations. You’ll gain a reputation as a people person. Colleagues will react more positively to your ideas and requests. You’ll collaborate with them more effectively and learn more. And you’ll find it easier to write good materials and messages because knowing your readers enables you to frame your communication within their perspective.
Understanding your audience also tells you what communication channel to use. If your boss doesn’t like texting, obviously don’t make a request that way. But you probably will send a text if you want advice on the best new smartphone from your 16-year-old cousin.
While we instinctively make such decisions all the time, you succeed more often on the job when you approach a writing challenge methodically. Scan the list of personal charac- teristics in the sidebar “Some Factors That Determine Who We Are.” Do you wonder how you can know so much about someone you only see in the office or connect with formally as a client or business contact?
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22 Part I • How to Communicate in Writing
How to Understand People
The best way to know someone is to thoughtfully interact and observe. As a trial attorney will tell you, the clues about who someone “is” abound: in what the
person says and does, his voice, what he wears and how he wears it, what he reads, how he walks, what he laughs at, how he shakes hands, what his office looks like. If you spend time with people or are familiar with their work environments, observe. And always listen. Active listening with your whole attention is the best way to understand another person. Open up your perceptions to notice what people in your life talk about, what triggers positive and negative reactions, what guides their decision making, what matters to them, how they communicate and more.
If the person is important to you—a boss or significant connection—back your observa- tion up with research, so easily done for everyone in the business world. What people choose to say about themselves on a professional site like LinkedIn, and choose to show on social media sites, tells you a lot beyond the facts. You can also ask other people for context and even advice on how to get along with someone to whom they relate well, but be tactful.
And ask questions! Provided your questions are appropriate and don’t exceed the rela- tionship’s boundaries, most people welcome the chance to talk about themselves, explain things and tell you what they think.
The best salespeople customarily ask open-ended questions like this: “I’m curious—how did you achieve your position here?” Then they listen carefully and interact according to their on-the-spot analysis. This approach isn’t devious. It respects the premise that we have individ- ual perspectives and patterns. A good saleswoman may conclude from such a conversation that her product or service is not what the prospect needs, and may even suggest another avenue. But if it looks like a match, she knows how to frame the pitch. In a workplace context, understand- ing other peoples’ frameworks helps you know how to talk their language.
SOME FACTORS THAT DETERMINE WHO WE ARE
Innumerable factors influence how individuals receive and react to messages. Understanding people from this perspective is infinitely rewarding. To develop your awareness of differences, it is useful to consider factors that make us unique, such as the following:
• age and generation
• economic status
• cultural, ethnic or religious background
• educational level
• where the person grew up and now lives
• career background
• role or status in the organization
• personal values
Beyond such overt factors, when the person is important to you—like a supervisor—consider:
• What does he care about?
• What interests her?
• What are his strengths, weaknesses?
• Problems and challenges: What keeps her up at night?
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Chapter 2 • Write to Accomplish Goals 23
• Leadership style: Top-down, collaborative or somewhere in between?
• Management style: Fair, consistent? Or plays favorites?
• Decision-making style: Slowly or quickly? Based on what?
• Open to new ideas? Willing to take risks?
• Likes confrontation or avoids it?
• General confidence level and apparent insecurities?
• Sensitive to people’s concerns?
• What makes him happy? Angry? Frustrated? Bored?
• Does she have a sense of humor? (Assume not)
• Is he comfortable with emotions? (Assume not)
• Any apparent pro or con feelings toward people your age? Either gender?
Think also about factors that affect how to com- municate with this individual.
• What is her relationship to you, both by position and inclination?
• How does he prefer to receive information: e-mail, in person, letter, phone, text, social media channel? PowerPoint? Formal or informal reports?
• What kind of explanations does she prefer: Big-picture? Detailed? Logical? Statistical?
• What is the best time of day to approach him? (Salespeople often aim for after lunch.)
• What are her hot buttons?
The nature of what you’re communicating about may suggest that you also pay attention to factors such as these:
• What the supervisor already knows about the subject. What more might he need to know? Any prior experience with the subject?
• How she feels about the subject and her comfort level with it
• Attitude toward innovation and change
• Preference for ideas that he originates (or thinks he originates)
Communicating Across Personal Filters
If audience analysis sounds like a lot of trouble, consider that a primary purpose of every message is to maintain or establish good relationships. You can’t do that without taking account of the individual you’re writing to. Further, to achieve your goal, you must choose the right strategy for your document. Putting yourself in someone’s mindset empowers you to answer this all-important question: What’s in it for me? You can’t give people what they need if you don’t know who they are.
We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.
—Anais Nin, writer and diarist
Every one of us comes to work (and to life) with a built-in filter that evolves over time through the interplay of genetic traits and everything that makes up our life experience. We interpret everything we encounter and that happens to us through this filter, which also determines our expectations, reactions, assumptions and fears.
Don’t ever doubt that you see the world through your own filter. The more conscious you become of your filter’s characteristics, as well as those of people with whom you
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24 Part I • How to Communicate in Writing
communicate, the better you’ll succeed. Treat communication as a bridge between different worldviews, and you’ ll be way ahead in your personal life as well as business life.
The good news is that once you start thinking about your audience analytically, doing so becomes second nature. Of course, the higher the stakes, the more thought it’s worth. An e-mail or text message asking a friend to meet for lunch won’t require a review of her comfort level with new ideas. But if you want to get project approvals from your supervisor, convince a client prospect that you’re worth 20 minutes of his time or close a sale, audience analysis is your friend.
Take account of different personal factors according to the nature of your request. If you want the recipient to understand and follow your instructions on how to file for reim- bursement, then education level is important. If you need to know how formal to make your message to a client, then her position matters, as does personal communication and management style.
Here’s another major reason why you want to know your audience: Written communica- tion lacks all the cues we depend on in face-to-face interaction. When we are in the presence of other people, we unconsciously adapt what we say—and how we say it—to their reaction. If we move the conversation in the wrong direction, their facial expression or body language signals us to switch focus. Otherwise they may interrupt us or stop listening.
With written communication, we can’t gauge reader response. Therefore, provided you want more than a random hit-or-miss success ratio, you need to target the message properly and anticipate response. In a way, you can hold the conversation in your head and write on that basis.
Tap Into Your Intuition
Intuition is knowing something without knowing how we know it. An interesting way to tap into it, and put together your impressions of someone and the facts you’ve marshalled, is to completely imagine the person mentally. If you’re working on an important communication, whether through writing or face to face, relax for a few minutes and bring her alive in your mind: Picture her in detail—carriage, dress, manner, expression, gestures, body language;
hear her speak, laugh. Visualize her office or other environment she created in full detail. You might hold an imaginary conversation—ask for what you want, observe her reaction, hear her questions and answer them. Then write from this awareness and see how it shapes your content choices, language and tone. If you’re preparing for an important con- versation, use the insights you gain this way—even if they’re hard to rationally explain—to plan a produc- tive conversation. This technique works because we always know a lot more than we think.
Profiling People You’ve Never Met
In many instances, you’re writing to people you haven’t met yet and may never meet. This is increasingly common as more enterprises operate with virtual teams in scattered locations. How do you analyze supervisors and coworkers then? Or prospective clients and partners?
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Chapter 2 • Write to Accomplish Goals 25
Online research plays a bigger role. Scout especially for opportunities to connect visu- ally. If you’re writing, or preparing to meet with someone you’ve not met for an interview, or to pitch a service, look for video of the person. This gives you a good feel for being in his presence.
Phone conversations also tell you a lot. Listen for the individual’s conversational pace— what provokes enthusiasm, any repeated words or phrases that indicate a focus or concern or a way of thinking. One individual may cite numbers often and another may show an inter- est in people. And, of course, ask direct questions if the context allows, such as “What kind of data would you like to see and at what level of detail?” …
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