How do you come across when someone reads a message from you? What impression of yourself — your values, your personality and your skills — do you create?
The answer can determine your success as a manager, team leader or colleague.
One of the many things I enjoy about teaching my fall course in managerial writing in the University of Minnesota's Technological Leadership Institute (in addition to working with the students), is exploring how good writing skills engender and reinforce good management skills. Here are three ways in which the two intersect:
1. Show respect for your readers.
One way is knowing your readers. When composing a message, ask yourself what matters to them. How can you present your information in a way that appeals to their interests, values and concerns?
In Chris Farrell's Oct. 12 broadcast of "Conversations on the Creative Economy" on Minnesota Public Radio, entrepreneur Kieran Folliard said he admired people who treated people well. "There's only one absolute sure way that you will not work with me," he declared, "and that is if you ever put people down."
In writing, you show respect through word choice and tone. You also take time to organize your message to communicate clearly, offer detail to explain your reasoning and eliminate wordiness to avoid wasting your readers' time.
2. Show your humanity.
Choose your words carefully. They do more than determine your tone. They also convey your values, personality and management style (hostile/sympathetic, forceful/understanding, trusting/suspicious). Choose words that make you sound genuine and approachable. Don't write, "It is my recommendation." Write "I recommend."
Communicate your values. Tell your story. Don't just tell your readers what you want. Tell them why. Offer not just facts, information and decisions, but also feelings, values, principles and reasons.
As Folliard said to Farrell, "My biggest challenge is trying to keep my feet on the ground … staying grounded and true to who you are." For Folliard, with his farming background and his connection not to luxury for the few but to the public houses, or pubs, of Ireland, "trying to build from that ground, that solid ground" is what guides him. It's also what inspires the people who work with him.
3. Demonstrate your competence.
The quality of your writing is a statement of your standards. If you're careless with your writing, if you don't know the basic rules of language, how can you inspire excellence from those who work for you?
If you don't see the three errors in the following sentence (or sentences) — "There's less risks with this investment than anticipated, that said, we need to be careful" — you shouldn't be sending unedited messages to your team members.
(The errors are there's for there're with a plural subject complement, less for fewer in reference to a countable noun and a comma rather than a period or semicolon between two complete sentences.)
Often your written words are the only way people know you. So use them to be the leader, and the person, you aspire to be.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.