Friday, June 25, 2010

Plan before you write to get results

So much of our communication today is through writing─largely emails. Some experts suggest that 30% of our emails are sent to clarify a previous email. What we need to do is focus on planning before we write. In fact, it is suggested that we spend 20% of our time planning a document, 25% of our time drafting it, a big 45% revising it and 10% of the total time proofreading it. I have no doubt President Lincoln followed a similar formula. Here's a list of questions to ask─and answer─as you plan any written document:

1. What’s the purpose of the document?

2. Who is my reader? Who is the audience? Position and decision-making authority, age, gender, education, personality type? Relationship to me? Are they formal? Informal?

3. How much does my reader know about the topic? Need to know? Want to know?

4. What reaction do I expect the reader to have? Hostile, receptive, biased, ambivalent? Are there special sensitivities between the reader and me or my company or organization?

5. What are the relevant points to cover? Check out mind mapping as an excellent technique for capturing your relevant points.

6. What do I want my reader to do after reading it? How do I want my reader to respond? Be clear and specific.

7. By when? What’s my deadline? It's a good idea to watch your tone with this last one. How about, "Please have your report to me by 3:00 on Friday, June 25, so it can be included in the department report to the board."

A little planning goes a long way toward getting the results you want.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Exercise verbal aikido and avoid getting hooked!

Our title borrows from a form of martial arts. The goal of aikido is to effectively neutralize an attack while maintaining the safety of the attacker and defender. Aikido uses the energy of the attack itself to immobilize the aggressor. They push; you pull; they pull, you push. You don’t challenge them.

We can apply the same principle in communication by using a technique called Limited Response. When someone throws out a sarcastic remark it's as though they're casting a fishing line with a big hook on the end. Don't bite! It's the tone that hooks us, so we need to repeat what they said─in our head─without the tone. Then we can respond to the seemingly neutral remark with an equally neutral remark.

In other words, we respond only to the subject of a remark, not the emotion behind it. For example, if you come into a meeting a bit late and a sarcastic co-worker says, "Nice of you to join us." You could come back with a defensive comment or an equally sarcastic one. Instead, repeat their remark in your head without the sarcastic tone. A likely response? "Thank you"─said in a very neutral tone. The big payoff for you? The sarcastic person will cast about for a fish, er, person who is more likely to grab their hook.