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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making a Successful Routine Request

Maybe you're used to yelling at the dinner table, "More meat!"  Maybe someone brings you more meat. 
Maybe you think that's the way to ask for something in the workplace too.

It is not.

Just as you would not yell "More meat" at the waiter in a restaurant, you should not holler versions of what you want in person or through emails in the workplace for help or for folders or any kind of information that you need.

Perhaps you have been doing this unwitttingly, and you have been getting what you asked for.
That's because people want you to go away, and that's the quickest way to make sure you leave.

Chewing on your hunk of meat, you walk off not realizing that people wonder which cave you live in and if you would enjoy the perks of civilization, like indoor plumbing and a stove.  When you behave like a cave dweller, you don't leave a very positive impression behind.

It's hard to know if you have been living in a cave. (Plato explains this in his book The Republic.)

But if you don't want to read Plato, consider this question:  Have you been demanding what you want the way a baby does who cries for a bottle until someone puts the bottle in his/her mouth?

If so, stop.  Learn to use words to communicate what you want, and these words should be laced with "Would you mind?" and "Is it possible" or "Would it be convenient?"   You see?  Words of courtesy and respect can do what demands and yelling have previously accomplished, only there's a greater benefit.

People will have a greater respect for you in the workplace and be glad to hear from you again.

Making routine requests is part of any workplace routine.  Don't fall into the bad habit of routinely hollering or demanding.  Instead, make your routine requests special:  be polite and considerate.  When you are, second helpings of help will follow.  When they do, say the same words you said after the first help was given and received, "Thank you."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When Opportunity Knocks, Answer the Door

Like everyone I receive many attachments without an explanation.  They show up in my e-box with no accompanying note of explanation.  When that happens (and it frequently happens with business people) I always think:  'You're missing an opportunity to make a sale.'

Maybe you think you're aren't selling something, but I think most e-mails sell something in the workplace:  credibility is one.  Establishing and building your credibility translates into your being memorable and easy to work with.  When people don't find your documents/correspondence confusing, they may not say, "Well done!" but they do register that inner exhale of:  'That was easy.'   That's especially important if you are always thinking ahead to how you can earn your next promotion or your next raise.  Don't let people forget you, and they will be more likely to if you don't provide a cover note that explains the attachments you are sending along.

Here are five good reasons to add a cover note to any document you forward whether through e-mail or snail mail:

1.  It's polite.
2.  Your reader will be more likely to open it.  Many people don't open attachments if they don't recognize the name of the sender, and sometimes people don't remember names.
3.  You help orient the reader to what he/she is about to open.  It could sound like this:  Here's that report you asked for...... Not only do you help orient the reader, you help steer the reader to interpret the contents of your attachment in the way you want it to be understood.
4.   You can offer to answer any questions that might arise after your reader has opened and read the document.
5.  You could express gratitude for the reader being interested in reading your attachment, especially if it is a resume or a proposal for a change at work.  This single sentence can open the door for you to follow up on this e-mail.  Sometimes you need to follow up:  to remind them of who you are and that you will do what you say you will do.

Following through goes a long way in the workplace.  A good example of this is simply writing a cover note that explains the purpose for the attachment being sent.  When you have a blank screen in front of you, recognize it for what it is:  an opportunity to remind the reader that you are a hard working person who is polite and respects others' needs to know and fulfills them by providing useful information in a timely way.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shake That Thing! 5 Ways to Sharpen Your Professional Writing This Year

Pay attention to how often you use the word "thing" to refer to the subject you mean.  Like the word love, for which there are a variety of feelings, the word thing is considered an all-purpose word, but sometimes it doesn't serve its purpose.

The thing is, words are symbols, and the word you use creates a link between your brain and the reader's brain.  The more precise the word choice, the stronger the link of understanding will be between the writer and the reader.  Recall how often you check your bars for the strength of a WiFi connection or how much power you have left on your cell phone.  Now, imagine that the word "thing" is the last bar, the faintest hint of power.  That's the power of the word thing when you are communicating.

Don't take my word for it.  The next time you write anything, double check your use of the word thing, and then consider which noun you really need to express the clearest idea possible.  You don't have to swap out every thing--just the ones where you mean the kitchen sink rather than that thing that has two faucets, or the traffic light rather than that thing that hangs over the road that controls traffic flow, and that thing between your two ears that thinks about the power of language.

If you are not a big user of thing, take a second look at the four other most common words that people rely casually upon to communicate and which are worn out from overuse:  do, it, seems and awesome.

When you confront those words, you will also feel the nagging discomfort of not wanting to sound snooty or out of step with other people who use the same language and in the use, help each other to feel part of the crowd.

Here's the question for you.  Are you part of the crowd or do you want to stand out as a stronger communicator who sets a higher standard for clear and persuasive communication?  Then, be willing to be uncomfortable by sounding sharper than your friends and by showing progress in the craftsmanship of writing even if that progress means that you have to give up your longtime lament of   "The thing is--I've never been a good writer."  Good writing begins with a desire to become a better communicator because you understand the power of that position.  A growing self awareness that produces a more controlled use of vocabulary is one step to take to reach that goal.  When you make that choice, your workplace writing will improve and, most likely, your earnings will as well.