When sitting in an interview chair, we often rely on our resumes and glossy portfolios to demonstrate our writing, our expertise and capabilities. But once we land the role, can we be certain that our strong writing skills will translate into an ability to communicate and work effectively with our peers and our senior colleagues? What is it about the way we communicate that could be holding us back from being seen as a leader, or even preventing us from getting ahead?
By Amanda Sutton
There are countless opportunities in the workplace where we can take a step back and reevaluate our communications skill set, whether it be in the boardroom, the breakroom or your outbox. When it comes to writing, we’d be better off learning how to gain confidence and inspire action in others rather than delivering flowery prose.
The difference between ‘writing’ and ‘communicating’ at work.
There is a distinct difference between knowing how to form and craft a letter or article, and how to effectively communicate your goals, wants, and desires across other channels.
While some have the ability to write prose and long form thought, the need for short form thought is at a peak. Now more than ever, the ability to form persuasive thought into concise statements is a business requirement.
But first, it’s important to know the difference between writing and communicating.
Writing can be seen as composing or telling a story, and is most often subjective to the reader. It can often inspire, and is typically focused on sharing one viewpoint or approach, but leaving the reader to make up their own mind.
Communicating can be seen as sharing or exchanging pertinent news or information. The goal of communicating is usually to elicit action, and the purpose is often to interact, liaise, and coordinate towards a larger project or goal.
In the office environment, these two approaches can have very different results.
It’s more important to be smart than sound smart.
An easy exercise prior to sitting down at a board meeting or drafting an email is to organize your thoughts around the goals you want to achieve, considering your role within scope of the project.
Sounding smart can not be your end goal. You aren’t trying to wow anyone with eloquent words or descriptive analysis of the current situation, but more with your ability to provide insight and clarity.
Identify the purpose. Identify all parties involved/affected. Provide actionable items or options, and demonstrate that you are thinking two steps ahead. Be clear, direct, and concise. This approach shows knowledge, perspective and leadership in one fell swoop.
TIP: Bullet points or email subheads work well to organize content and streamline thoughts.
Get answers, not silence.
Two of the most frustrating parts of communicating in the workplace are unresponsiveness and delayed approvals. The cause of these can often be boiled down to communication cliffs; responses like “Sure, sounds good” and “Contact me later” are fine, but now you have to craft a whole other email outlining the HOW and WHEN. In business, there are times for casual conversations, and there are times when you just need a firm response because of a deadline.
This can be avoided by valuing your time upfront. Rather than squishing your request in among a long explanation about how and why it is important, be direct and highlight what you need and when you need it.
Giving people options — i.e. A) This item – delivered by this date B) This item – delivered by this date — is another great way to get closer to a definitive answer or confirmation, all while keeping the lines of communication open. Setting firm expectations requires the person you’re communicating with to take more decisive action to meet your request.
TIP: If a clear answer is what you need, avoid words like ‘following up’ and ‘checking in’ — these don’t elicit action and might get brushed aside in an overcrowded inbox.
Keep things moving.
As a communicator, my job usually involves keeping a project, interview, or deadline on task, so the art of project management comes naturally.
People’s time is valuable, especially yours. You don’t have time to go back and forth, send multiple emails on the same topic, or worse, risk losing time on a project with a pending deadline. Getting to the end goal is the key for any project or team, and most often can come down to a simple sign off.
Leave people with an understanding of your timing and your expectations on their delivery so they have a picture of how they will schedule you into their work week. i.e. I will be working on the Jones case until Tuesday afternoon, but will be free Wednesday morning to discuss Project X. Does 10am work for you?
TIP: Reminding people of your other responsibilities is never a bad idea to reiterate not only your value to the company, but that you value their time as a priority.
With these simple but monumental skill sets, not only will you deliver beyond senior-level expectations, but your newfound ability to take ownership and steer the ship will establish your position as a leader, potentially opening opportunities for advancement down the road.
Amanda Sutton is a seasoned communications pro and has offered strategic counsel to dozens of businesses on the subjects of communications, PR, branding, media and crisis management. She has run her own PR agency, Catalyst Communications Choreography, for the last decade. Her team sets themselves apart as PR choreographers with a big picture mindset, a talent for value-driven messaging and a journalistic approach to content writing, driven by a natural curiosity about why you do what you do. Building on a strong foundation in sales and business leadership, Amanda’s background includes working on both agency and corporate sides of PR and now includes working alongside startups and educational programs that are producing the next generation of communicators.