Una Cox | February 14, 2023
This blog asks three questions to help us understand and answer this.
When we’re more aware of the words we’re writing, we can make better choices to reflect the best version of ourselves and ensure our readers understand our messages straight away.
Fi McKay, in ‘The Cultural Atlas’ (2022), states that ‘New Zealanders are relatively indirect communicators’. This isn’t a bad thing as it reflects New Zealanders’ cultural values of not wanting to be too pushy. But how does it benefit our writing in a time-poor workplace where we need quick decisions? And what does it look like in our writing?
Research by Lisa Burdes, in ‘The Migrant Times’ (2016), stated that:
‘Rather than using phrases like “email me that” or “shut the door”, New Zealanders soften the language to avoid sounding rude: “sorry, would you mind emailing me that” and “could you possibly shut the door?” Those who come from cultures where language is more direct may have to adjust their language style in order to not offend their workmates.’
Do you write things like this?
When choosing between direct and indirect, ask yourself ‘Where on the scale do I need to be so my reader understands and can get the job done?’
If we’re too indirect, as outlined in the examples above, our listener and reader may not be compelled to respond. Overthinking our words costs us valuable time. On a personal level — we can appear passive, unassertive, and lacking confidence. Worse still, we can miss out on interviews, proposals, and promotions.
On a business level — consequences include wrong actions or inaction, frustrations, delays, lost opportunities, a negative reputation, or, worse still, more questions from the reader (see Lynda Harris’ 2016 book, Rewrite). So what can we do to reduce the impact?
Yes! And here are some tips.
A quick tip for finding the purpose is to ask yourself what you want the document to do, and then use verbs to make this clear. For example, this document informs, recommends, needs, and so on. If you’re unsure of your purpose, your reader will be too!
Think about what your readers need to know and prioritise this (the content) from their perspective. Remember the saying — fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Write ‘Vote for one candidate’ instead of ‘Do not vote for more than one candidate’. Have you heard of the 3:1 positive to negative feedback ratio? According to Erica Callaway Carr from 9P, ‘Research continues to suggest that it takes at least three positive interactions to outweigh one negative interaction.’
Could this apply to writing in general and not only feedback? If so, what’s the impact of a poorly worded email? Will it take three better-worded emails to rebuild that business relationship or connection? If this were the case, isn’t it better to write right from the start?
Short sentences make short documents and require less thinking and editing — it’s a win–win! Use familiar words that reflect the person you need to be for the result you need to get. Respect your own time and your readers’ time by writing less.
Whether or not you agree with the saying, ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’ — your spoken and written words reflect YOU! Jumbled words reflect jumbled thoughts. Where you are on the direct/indirect communication scale won’t be the same for every document you write. But the tips above will help your writing reflect the image you want for what you are trying to achieve. So write wisely and concisely!