Facing an audience of male and female executives, some of whom worked in multinational oil companies and in other reputable organisations, I mouthed with some flourish:
“Nothing will kill your career faster than incompetent or ineffective business writing skills”.
Having amended the original slogan from The Language Lab
, I used it as my opening remark for the business writing sessions that I recently facilitated for a seminar.
As the audience visibly pondered on the veracity of my claim, I slowly repeated the sentence.
I explained that not only did I completely agree with the statement, I also believed that because business writing was so instrumental to our careers, we’d be required to write convincingly to influence people at some point in our professional journey.
So whether you go on to conquer new professional feats, or fail miserably, will depend on your (in)ability to express your views to sway your audience to take the desired action.
And it wouldn’t matter what role you have, or the sector in which you work.
Here’s the thing about business writing:
It’s difficult to write really well in the business context; so if you can hone this skill, you immediately differentiate yourself from the pack.
Below are some insights from my sessions:
1) To write well, you must take into account the other types of communication
You can’t write well without having a good understanding of the context that will shape your writing.
And this often means that you’d need to consider verbal and nonverbal cues, whenever appropriate.
For example, if you’re required to write a letter rebuking an undesirable behaviour, knowing what was verbally uttered and the nonverbal cues that accompanied the action, will guide you on how to word the letter.
Business writing shouldn’t thus be done in a vacuum.
Moreover, in sensitive matters, a good deal of emotional intelligence is required to maintain a delicate balance between professionalism and empathy.
For example, in a case involving a tragedy, it might mean the difference in impact between the two options sent by your employer:
A)”Please accept our condolences on the loss of your loved one. Regretfully, because of time constraints, we must insist on your decision by 4 pm”.
B)”Please accept our condolences on the tragic loss of your loved one. We can appreciate that this painful circumstance is emotionally draining for you. Therefore, we would wait for a convenient time to be informed of your decision“.
Despite your grief, you’re likely to consider the second option more favourably; you’d also be inclined to promptly respond to that subtle request.
Comparatively, your reactions to the first statement may range from disbelief to disgust. You might even become emotionally detached from your employer and reassess your continued tenure in the organisation.
Choosing the appropriate words, style and delivery in business writing may take time to master but with practice, you can write persuasively, even in delicate matters.
2) You need to replace bad habits with effective alternatives
We’ve been guilty of the following:
– Bad grammar, (made worse because we didn’t know we were using bad grammar). Included here is the laziness to verify constructions that are suspect.
– Poor or nonexistent habit of reading good content.
– Persistent unwillingness to write. We either get people to write for us or we avoid writing altogether.
The habits above over time further weakened our writing. Then when placed in competitive environments, our ineffective writing skills lost us business opportunities or cost us promotions.
So while we’re all educated and can write passably, we often struggle with writing effectively in the business context.
The solutions are simple but must be consistently applied. To change those bad habits, you should:
Do some grammatical exercises online and brush up on the standard rules. The University of Bristol
has an online section where you could do exercises, as well as read simple explanations about different topics on grammar. Do as many exercises as possible, beginning with exercises on punctuation marks, subject-verb agreement, and common confusions.
Nonetheless, note that (re)learning good grammar in isolation is no more effective than memorising the dictionary and not putting that knowledge into practice.
Consider good grammar as a solid foundation. You must build upon that foundation by writing regularly to hone your business writing skills.
B) Read well-written content
You’d never improve your business writing skills if you don’t regularly read good materials. I have stressed this point in several articles on this blog. Learn from good authors by reading their work.
Read every day. It doesn’t matter what you read as long as it’s written in foolproof English. Take your pick from short stories, novels, articles, magazines and influential business sources.
There’s a reason that those who write them are celebrated.
Learn from them.
C) Understand the three ‘rules’ of effective business writing
I) Consider your audience
Your audience will determine the style you use and the vocabulary you choose.
Don’t write anything until you address the allure of value for the recipient. To be a persuasive writer, you should consider the what’s-in-it-for-me angle.
II) Aim for simplicity, brevity and clarity
Learn how to do it right.
III) Proofread thoroughly and edit ruthlessly
Here, your (hopefully) improved grammar will become invaluable to your finished product. Proofread your work thoroughly. Read your piece audibly and slowly. You’d catch mistakes that the spell-check won’t flag.
For your editing, eliminate redundancies and jargon. Be ruthless in pruning clutter, (words or phrases that add no value). Your writing would then become crisp and succinct.
3) Become familiar with the structures of different types of business content
To write powerful emails
that get results, ensure that your elements are clearly defined and that your call-to-action is undeniable.
Don’t dread mastering formal writing
. When you know the structure to use and the required ‘protocol’, you’d be able to write convincingly.
I ended the business writing sessions by making what many might have considered a bold statement.
“Once you know the rules, there’s no one on this planet you wouldn’t be able to write to”.
And I meant every word.
I assured the participants that even though we were not all gifted with superb writing skills, we could always improve if we did the work.
But change we must because business writing skills are too important to leave to chance. Powerful writing skills advance our careers and businesses, just as ineffective writing stalls our progress.
Let’s choose wisely.
Over to you:
Have your writing skills helped your career/business or deprived you of opportunities?
Share your experiences in the comments below.
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Hire me for:
– Communication training sessions for your staff and executives.
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– Speeches and keynote presentations at your corporate events.
Let me help you get results.
A) Send an email to: Lucille@LucilleOssai.com.
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N.B: First image is courtesy of Zirconicusso, from freedigitalphotos.net. Second image is courtesy of Cooldesign, from freedigitalphotos.net. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth images are courtesy of Stuart Miles, from freedigitalphotos.net.