Friday, March 21, 2014

Weekly Tip - Want results? Make it easy for people to understand you

My blog entries are usually quite lengthy, but making it easy to understand isn't always about keeping it short. I do realise the length of an article can be an issue and you may notice that each weekly tip is summarised in the first 100 words or so. There is a reason for this, which I will explain shortly, but onto the summary.

Summary; In both your written and verbal communication make it easy for people to understand you and you will get better results. A few points to keep in mind;

  • People are busy (they might get bored if you aren't getting to the point)
  • Choose your headline wisely (if you hide your point in a forest of language it won't be found)
  • People aren't good at English (many intelligent, native speakers will struggle if your vocabulary is too fancy, for non native speakers is a nightmare!)
  • Put the action clearly in the communication (don't expect people to just know what you want because it is obvious to you).
  • Summarise (if you have a lot to say, break it down into a short summary - like this one!)

Okay, all this seems pretty obvious, but why do people then get frustrated when action isn't taken as a result of their communication?

People are busy; 
People tend to pay attention to things that interest them, or that may cause them harm. If your message doesn't drop into one of those categories, then you have a lot of work to do. Keeping your message easy to understand well help. 

For example which of the following Is better;

"I need to raise an issue that might cost us up to 100k. Andy is the only person that has access to all the information needed to verify the the amount. I've spoken to him and he thinks it will be half a days work. depending on the outcome, we may need to get the team together to identify a resolution. Would you please authorise half a day for Andy to work on this, preferably by Monday to get things moving?"


"I've been looking at the figures and there seems to be a few problems with the analysis, and I think it might be worth the team getting together and taking a look, I could do with using Andy for half a day if that's okay before hand to go through the numbers, would that be okay?"

I would go with the first option, funny, as there are more words, so what I mean by people are busy, is they are too busy for stuff that isn't getting to the point. For example, The first example contains a figure that is likely to grab anyone's attention, additionally it is clear on exactly what is required - an authorisation to use Andy for half a day.

The second will most likely either result in a string of emails, or worse be ignored by the person receiving it, the first might just result in, "happy for you to use Andy, let me know if you need anything else."

Choose your headline wisely
In the example above, the number, "100k" will grab your attention, make sure that you have your headline in there!
Also some don't just skim read, they skim listen too. If they have something on their minds they may not be giving you their full attention, look for things that get their attention. for some it's numbers, for others, it may be a damage to the company reputation, looking bad in front of a customer or even just looking bad in front of their boss!

People aren't good at English
Nobody likes to feel stupid, and often those who need to Google a word they are reading or second guess what you are saying, are going to feel stupid. If that is your intention, stop, it won't do you any favours to confuse people, and if others witness it, they may think they are next!

Say what you mean at about the level of language you would expect to read in a newspaper like The Sun. This way you won't lose your audience (you will get more respect for being a clear communicator than using degree level language to make you feel clever).

Put the action clearly in the communication
Unless you really have to, don't leave people to think, just say what you want using a polite request, e.g. "would you please send me the month end report today"

The,"would you please" serves as a polite request that someone can say no to if needed without confrontation. The, "send me the month end report" clearly states what it is you want. Finally, when you want, as the "today" part is essential and gives context to the urgency. Take note if you are a manager and make a request without giving a due date, this will lead to either panic as folk drop what they are doing, or ignore it because you didn't specify a date. 

I tend to put an executive summary at the start of communication, my summaries normally look like a contents page with a sentence to explain each item - if you look back to the start of how I wrote the summary for this section, it just says;

  • "Summarise (if you have a lot to say, break it down into a short summary - like this one!)".

I do this as the message I want to convey is more important than making sure everyone reads every word I've written or spoken (I expect very few will read all 1000 words of this post). If I wanted more hits, I could use grabbing techniques that are often seen such as, "you won't believe what this person did to getting understood in the workplace...." and then you read a lame story and are disappointed. Well, that may work for social media, but a conversation, email or presentation at work you need all the information quickly accessible, a summary can provide that, and most importantly, make it easy for people to understand you.

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