Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Written Communication: Images, Stories, and Feelings

Some years back I was hired to facilitate a one-day training on Writing for Business for a Fortune 100 company. Each of the men and women attending had recently graduated with a MBA from some of our nations’ most elite schools. The first assignment was to write their manager an email. I don’t remember the assigned topic, but, as I read all of the emails, I do remember thinking, “So this is why I was brought in.”  There were smiley-faces, references to “dudes,” misspelled words, incomplete sentences, paragraphs with no apparent topics, sentences drowning in adjectives, and letters that went on, and on, and on…and on. When I asked for volunteers for going over a few of the emails out of the 25 or so I had in hand, most everyone raised their hands. Some, no doubt, wanted feedback so as to learn: most, however, were oblivious as to just how poorly they had done.

After going over 4 or 5 of the emails in considerable detail, I asked them to go back and look over what they had written and ask themselves one question: “What image of myself did I create in my manager’s mind?” One young man blurted out: “O NO! I am the class clown.”

So much of our communications today are written: email, texts, blogs, Instagram (a pic is worth 1,000 words), tweets, and posts on Facebook. For a few moments I want you to consider the platforms you most frequently utilize and ask yourself some questions:

What image of myself are all these communications creating in the minds of my readers? 

Placing myself in the minds and hearts of my reader(s), what does the totality of all that I have written (relative to each particular audience) communicate regarding my competencies, professed beliefs, values, principles, attitudes, and vision?

Considering all of your communications with him, her, or them, say over the last 6 months, what is the narrative you have created in their minds?  For example, go back and look over all of your posts on Facebook: considering them as a whole, “What’s the storyline, here?” Is it a story you meant to tell? Are your readers getting what you intend? How do you know?

Another example. Choose a person with whom you frequently exchange emails and go back over the last few months of communications. Seeing all of these as a single ongoing narrative, what is the story I am telling? Is this ongoing narrative taking your relationship (be it professional or personal) the direction you want to go?  

Have you considered that each of your written communications elicits a feeling, a psychological state? People “experience” your written communication, just as they do your oral communication. Put yourself in their hearts: are they experiencing what you intended?

One of the great challenges of written communication is that your audience cannot hear your tone of voice or see your demeanor. We must constantly be aware of this challenge so as to take painstaking care in crafting our sentences. In looking over what I am sending this person, what will he or she hear, see, and feel, as my words are being read?

Think about the person(s) to whom you are writing: what is her mindset, what are his default assumptions, what attitudes or experiences usually color their perspective? While writing, we want to maintain an awareness, not only of the intent of our communication, but also of our audience’s frame of mind, personality, goals, position, and everything else that could have a bearing on how we frame our thoughts.

You are always communicating: always telling a story, always creating pictures in your reader’s minds, and always eliciting psychological states. The question I am asking you is this: What are your intentions and are you in the process of attaining them?

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013 

1 comment:

  1. Awesome stuff.I am going to post this to all my social sites. I wish I could have said it better. But who can say it better than Monte!?