Reasons not to write
There are many reasons why you might feel moved to write something, but sometimes it’s better to resist the temptation.
If you are getting something off your chest, do not press ‘send.’
When writing an email is providing you with a feeling of intense emotional release, be aware that the mood will pass. What you wrote, when the rage or the drink was upon you, will not.
If you feel you have written something ‘particularly fine,’ strike it out. 1
Do not write to impress others with your wit and erudition. You are almost certainly not Stephen Fry, and nobody likes a show-off.
If you are writing when you should be talking, go and have the conversation instead.
Face-to-face conversation is almost always better than written communication. If you find yourself emailing someone you can see from your desk, have a word with yourself, and then go and talk to them.
If you are typing something that you would never say in person, don’t.
Where something really needs to be said, then you should find the courage to say it. Most unpleasantness is best left unspoken. If you are a member of the troll community, remember that digital cloaks of anonymity have a habit of being rent. And what would your Nan think?
If you are writing without a clear idea of what you want to achieve, stop.
Communication is supposed to change things. So, why are you writing this? When people read what you wrote, what do you want them to do, or think, or feel? What happens next? What is your outcome?
When you think about the outcome, you also have to think about your audience, and your tone, and the medium, and the business context – and everything else that’s going on around you. Thinking about the outcome reminds you it’s not about you, but them – the people you want to influence. Thinking about the outcome might prevent some of those gaffes and outrages that we see from time to time in public life.
Most of all, thinking about the outcome gives you a measure of success. If you have a good, clear reason to write your message, you’ll know whether it works or not. You’ll know whether you have more work to do. And you’ll know how to do better next time. This principle works for any level of message, from the personal to the corporate, but it is especially true when contemplating large-scale engagement with your colleagues.
With employee communications, the stakes are high, attention spans are short and there may well be a political charge to the subject matter. But however fraught the circumstances, if you know what you want to achieve, you are much more likely to achieve it.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this piece, do get in touch. Or not, as the case may be.
1. Dr. Johnson advises us to ‘Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’
He also said, ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money’, which, when you think about it, says as much about outcome as income.