Sunday, May 01, 2016

Found Around—Random Writing Tip 7: Watch You But!

The tone we set in writing business messages goes a long way in getting our audience to read them. Since we do not benefit from body language and vocal intonation when writing,  we need to choose words carefully to set the right mood.  Choosing positive expressions will help.

For sure, we sometimes have to be the bearers of bad news. But many writers are either unconsciously negative or unable to turn a negative into a positive, so this simple tip may be useful in coming across as a more supportive businessperson.

Watching Your Buts
Just writing but can cause a tone problem. Imagine receiving this message: The quality of your project report is excellent, but you submitted it late. The compliment before but seems disingenuous, as if the writer really wants to focus only on the disappointingly late submission, not at all on the report quality. Imagine if the ideas in the sentence were reversed: You submitted the project report late, but its quality is excellent. Now the message seems more positive, especially because it ends on a positive note. 

Balancing Your Observations
Even more disingenuous would be a paragraph that read something like this: The quality of your project report is excellent, but you submitted it late. As a result, I had to request a waiver of the deadline, which took a considerable amount of time and effort. While you told me you'd be a day late, you were unavailable to help me with the waiver request, so I had to rearrange my work schedule.

In this example, only 8 words (13%) are positive and 53 words (87%) are negative. In this positive rewrite we strike a better balance by removing the but mentality altogether.

The quality of your project report is excellent. Your focus on our mission, comprehensive assessment of data, organization of ideas, and command of language are impressive. It reflects well on how you manage your department and exemplifies how we want our staff to communicate.

Fortunately, your fine work was saved from being rejected for missing the deadline. Your request to extend the deadline without being available to submit a deadline waiver caused considerable time and effort for me to submit it and made me rearrange my work schedule.

To avoid a similar situation, please give me at least a week's notice that you'll be late and submit the deadline waiver on time. These steps will ensure that your work rises to the highest communication standard and reinforces management's positive impression of you.

This 132-word rewrite has 3 paragraphs, one for the positive (44 words), one for the negative (44 words), and one for the recommendation (44 words). It still gives the needed bad news but begins and ends on a positive note. Sure it increases the word count of the original by 149%, yet sometimes the situation calls for us to add ideas to sound supportive of a worthy employee. So get off your but.