It's no secret that great leaders usually are great communicators. But to communicate effectively in our technologically driven society requires much more than a dynamic personality and a compelling message.
Managers must be masters of the written word if they hope to motivate and instruct others. Consider how much business communication now takes place via email, instant messaging, text messaging, business letters, memos, reports, PowerPoint presentations, marketing plans and performance evaluations.
"Today there are more opportunities than ever to communicate via the written word," says Melanie Keveles, a professional coach and president of Aligned Advantage Business and Personal Coaching. "Thus there are many more opportunities to miscommunicate."
Heed these tips from managers and experts on how to present yourself well in print:
Make Yourself Clear
A misunderstood memo or letter can lead to poor decisions and mistakes, says Lenny Laskowski, an international professional speaker and president of LJL Seminars.
"Most business problems today are a direct result of poor communication skills, so it's very important to be able to professionally communicate with your staff," says Laskowski. "The written word is often a permanent document in the company's records, so it is very important to learn to write clearly. If you learn to write like you speak, it will naturally read better. People often write differently than they speak, and the message is not always clearly understood."
Successful managers know how to convey information, lead and inspire, says Stephen Wilbers, a writing consultant and syndicated national columnist on effective business writing.
"They do that by telling stories and explaining the values and vision behind their objectives," says Wilbers, who teaches writing at the University of Minnesota's Management of Technology Program and the Carlson School of Management's MBA program. "The more adept they are with language and writing, the more likely their story will be heard."
Know When Not to Write
Managers must also know when it's more appropriate to call or meet with employees and colleagues rather than send an email or memo. Highly sensitive, emotionally charged and/or complicated matters should not be addressed via the written word, unless it is a follow-up summary of a conversation, says Janet Scarborough, a business psychologist with Bridgeway Career Development.
Tips for Better Writing
Keveles says managers need to remember that everything they write, from the briefest memo to the lengthiest report, represents their organization and department. Poor grammar, spelling or style can undermine both the organization and the writer's reputation. To prevent such breaches, Keveles recommends these simple yet often overlooked steps:
- Be clear and concise, since it's remarkably easy for written words to be misinterpreted.
- Be sure to adhere to rules of punctuation, grammar and spelling -- and to take time to review your writing before sending it to others.
- Remember: Emails can end up floating around in cyberspace and ultimately sent to the wrong person. Once something is sent, it can't come back.
- Don't make assumptions about messages and angrily or hastily respond. Sometimes emails, business letters and instant messages are hard to interpret without the benefit of face-to-face contact. A person's tone and body language can be key to the message.
- When emailing, avoid writing in capital letters, as it's considered like shouting at someone.
- Avoid using excessive exclamation points. You can make your point with one.