Sunday, February 20, 2005

Style, Part 2: Manage Your Manager's Style

The fact that someone is your manager—even if your manager is a good writer—does not automatically certify that his or her style is always suitable. If you believe some phrase to be inappropriately bureaucratic, vague, weak, defensive, arrogant, or the like, you owe it to your manager to point this out—without becoming arrogant yourself, of course. Be specific by pointing out the precise words or phrases that show the problematic style issue.

Below are slightly edited writing samples (to protect the guilty) submitted by my students, who showed me their boss's writing style and what they would have done—if given the chance—to improve it.

Lawyerly: Pursuant to amendments with respect to Contract 24601, our Firm hereby requests your concurrence to the said provisions.
Revision: Our Firm asks that you approve the amendments to Contract 24601.

Authoritarian: You must comply with the policies and procedures of our office.
Revision: Please follow the policies and procedures of our office.

Negative: We cannot help you because you failed to send the necessary documentation.
Revision: We will help you when you send the necessary documentation.

Sarcastic: We will do business with that vendor again after hell freezes over.
Revision: We will no longer do business with that vendor.

Since I often learn from my students about style, I hope that managers learn from their subordinates about it as well. Managers, listen up: your staff members measure your every word. You might as well have them manage your style from time to time.

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