Write to employees, not at them

Ever notice how some people seem to change their communication style when writing? The 50-cent words come flying out and nobody understands the message. “Fix a problem” becomes “meet this challenge head on.” And of course, the only way to meet this challenge is to leverage your synergies. Ugh…

I suspect that part of the formality is that people want to appear as knowledgeable as possible, and perhaps try too hard. In some cases, I’m sure, it’s also to impress the boss.

Regardless, loading up your message with grown-up words decrease its effectiveness, especially if you use jargon or industry-specific terms.

Remember the line from Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia: “Explain it to me like I’m a 6 year-old.” That’s pretty much spot-on. People appreciate common, everyday language, and won’t feel like they’re being spoken down to.

Eligible employees …
Another common error I see is speaking to people in the third person. Companies from Maine to Alaska send out messages announcing that “Benefits enrollment packets are being mailed to eligible employees.” I’m not picking on our friends in the benefits world — after all, they’re not paid to write —but consider the difference of: “Look for your benefits enrollment packet in the mail …”

Use “you” to help personalize your message.

Get to your point quickly
Years ago, at a company far away, employees received an email that brought some not-so-good news. Unfortunately, the key element was buried in the message. While I can’t recall the point of the message, I do remember hearing a coworker say “They don’t tell you until the fourth paragraph.”

This buried-message style raises red flags for two reasons.

  • People are busy, and you need to put you key points in front of readers quickly.  Be clear and concise.
  • Overselling the message dings your credibility. A lengthy introduction is often seen as a set up, or worse. This is especially true when targeting readers from our younger generations.

Be yourself when you write. Your readers will appreciate it, and with a little bit of luck, your message will hit home.

Your thoughts?

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  1. #1 by Tony D. on May 14, 2012 - 6:29 pm

    Good advice John!

  2. #2 by Jim Sanville on June 20, 2012 - 3:34 pm

    Nicely articulated.

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