If you are human, you face situations during your workday that require you to write under pressure. Maybe you have to respond to an angry employee’s email. Maybe you seriously disagree with a coworker and need to put your reasons in writing. Or you may have to share constructive feedback that might trigger a negative reaction.
When you have to write in sticky situations, don’t risk your relationships by ignoring essential truths. The communication truths below will help you achieve your goals while protecting your relationships.
1. Remembering your larger goal helps you avoid acting small.
It is easy to get caught up in frustration or other feelings brought on by circumstances. But if you do, you may later regret the way you have communicated. Try to remember your larger goal.
For instance, when you give written feedback on poor performance, your larger goal is to help the employee be successful. Recognize that goal and you will be more likely to share constructive rather than destructive feedback. When you need to say no to a customer’s unreasonable request, your larger goal is to maintain a good long-term relationship. Focus on that goal and it will be easier to avoid making the individual feel foolish for asking or angry about your decision.
2. “You statements” fuel defensiveness; “I statements” reduce it.
In tense situations, you statements (statements that use you or your with an assertion) can communicate blame or judgment of the other person, even when your intentions are good. Notice the differences in these two examples:
“Your logic doesn’t make sense” [you statement] vs. “I don’t understand the logic yet.”
“You keep putting off our meeting [you statement], so I can’t finish the project” vs. “I need to meet with you today [I statement] to complete the project.”
3. Neither person in a communication has all the information.
It’s easy to assume you have all the information you need. But that assumption can be dangerous, especially in writing, which does not allow instant two-way communication.
For example, you may not have received data from a coworker, but that fact does not mean he did not send it to you. Stating “I have not received the data” communicates more effectively than “You have not sent me the data.” (Notice those I and you statements again.) You may be disappointed with the results of a project, but it’s unwise to assume that an individual’s performance caused the mixed results. It’s better to state “Let’s get together to discuss how the project went” than to write “We need to talk about how you handled the project.”
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4. As the writer, you create the mood of your message.
If you use negative language, you create a negative mood. When you use suitable positive language, your message communicates positively. In the following examples, notice the mood change when the negative language is replaced by positive language:
“Company policy dictates that we are unable to divulge salary information” vs. “Because we value employee privacy, we keep salary information confidential.”
“You will not receive your certificate until you complete the practicum” vs. “As soon as you complete the practicum, you will receive your certificate.”
“You can’t open an account with such a small deposit” vs. “It takes just $100 to open an account.”
5. Straight talk is not the same as thoughtlessness.
Honesty may be the best policy, but do not equate honesty with rudeness. Edit your gut reactions. In constructive feedback, for example, instead of writing, “Your home page is a mess,” write, “I couldn’t find certain standard information on the home page.” Instead of writing “On a 10-point scale of confusion, your plan is a 12,” write “When I reviewed the plan, I got confused several times. Let’s talk about those places.”
In challenging circumstances, it is often better to meet in person or by phone than to communicate in writing. But when you must write in sticky situations, review the truths above.
Which communication truths would you add? Please share them.
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