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How to Stop the Gossip

A client sent me a worried email about an administrative assistant. The assistant had sent out an email to some executives in the company, and that email had lots of errors.

When I read the email thread, I saw the offending email. I also saw that several messages were now scurrying around the company, each one speculating about why the assistant had made so many errors. Was this a problem of English as a second language? Did the assistant need a tutor? Would the assistant, who otherwise seemed very polished and professional, be offended if approached about a tutor?

I looked closely at the email that started this flurry. I counted the errors: 10. Then I pasted the email into a Word document to use my grammar and spelling checker on it.

Microsoft found 9 of the 10 errors.

These errors were not subtle. They included extra spaces, a missing period, an incorrect punctuation mark–that kind of thing.

Do you think a half-dozen people at the company would be concerned about the competence of the administrative assistant if the person had made just one error? That is how many errors would have remained if the document had been checked for grammar and spelling errors. And proofreading could have easily caught that last error.

Question: Could they have been talking about you? If so, here is one way to stop the gossip at your company: check the grammar and spelling–and proofread–before you send an email to executives, or to anyone. If you don’t, people may be whispering and wondering about your competence even though you seem–indeed are–so polished and professional. 

It would be much nicer if they were whispering about how great you look. Or about their hopes that you are happy in your job because they don’t want to lose you. Or about how much they admire you and all you have accomplished.

If you are thinking the people at the company were not actually gossiping, you’re right. They were expressing concern about a valued employee. But if their comments went on unchecked, they could easily deteriorate. Don’t let that happen.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.