Confronting Difficult Issues with Writing

We don’t conduct business in a vacuum. Sometimes, we have to confront difficult, uncomfortable topics with writing. When these situations arise, our challenge is to write in a way that articulates our feelings and perspectives, while also improving the business culture that we work in—not tearing it down. 

Perhaps you need to tell a group of employees disappointing news or must explain a setback to a customer. At one time or another, we all must write about business-related difficulties.

Here are a few things to keep in mind so your writing is as successful as possible:

1. Take a deep breath. Wait until your head is clear to put your thoughts into writing.  If you don’t, you’ll risk hurting your reputation and making the situation even worse.

2. Share your perspective and ask for theirs. Detail what you specifically have seen or experienced; don’t assume that everyone has the same perspective. Write several sentences beginning with “I” so that the reader understands where you’re coming from. Then, ask for them to share their perspective (a personal email back to you, a phone call, etc.).

3. Articulate goals. Discuss the problems in terms of your collective objectives. It’s useful to describe the goals, even if you think all your readers know them already, so everyone is on the same page.

4. Recognize hard work. Give everyone credit where it’s due by recognizing others’  efforts to achieve the goals. We all respond better to a disappointment when our successes and achievements are recognized.

5. Never blame. Don’t ever blame another person in writing. Setbacks and failures usually have many causes, not including other peoples’ actions or decisions. Blaming people will only worsen the situation.

6. Recognize disappointment and next steps. Finally, describe your and others’ disappointment in the situation; recognize how it will hurt employees or your customers. Don’t shy away from this—readers want to know that you understand their pains. Once you’ve done this, encourage others to move past it by outlining the steps you’ll take to improve or rectify the situation.

For my next post, I’ll write a sample email addressing a difficult topic. Do you have any suggestions for the topic or situation? Please pass along any scenarios that come to mind!

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Hiring a Writer Series: When should you hire?

The Hiring a Writer Series examines how business owners, managers and marketers can can hire the best freelance writer for their project and establish a successful and productive relationship.

moo.com business cards

moo.com business cards (Photo credit: bargainmoose)

There are so many reasons that businesses hire an outside writer to complete a few tasks. Perhaps they have too much on their plates and need to outsource some work or maybe they want to produce something totally new, like a blog or marketing brochure, and need some outside expertise. Sometimes, businesses simply want an outside perspective or someone who can get the task done quickly. In short, hiring a talented outside writer benefits businesses in many ways.

The challenge lies in finding the right writer–and at the right time. Here are a few simple tips to get the timing right:

  1. Learn about a few potential writers well before you have a specific project in mind. Seek out information on potential writers and editors to have on file. This way, when something comes up, you have people that you can interview quickly.
  2. When a project arises, contact writers as soon as possible. This means you’ll find the right one more quickly and get the ball rolling.
  3. Plan time for the writer to gather information. Most likely, the writer won’t be completely familiar with your business, the project or your overarching goals. Give him or her at least two days to speak to employees, read and research. This step is vital for a successful end product. If they continue working for you, they will need considerably less time to research.
  4. Don’t expect the writer to devote all their time to your project. Most freelance writers juggle multiple projects at once. They can usually write very quickly after gathering all the information. When interviewing candidates, ask them how long they expect the project to take. Some writers may be able to turn your project around more quickly than others.

Check back soon for more tips for hiring a writer for your business’ projects!

Hiring a Writer Series: Why Hire an Outside Writer?

The Hiring a Writer Series examines how business owners, managers and marketers can can hire the best freelance writer for their project and establish a successful, productive relationship.

English: Alexx Shaw, freelance curator and writer

English: Alexx Shaw, freelance curator and writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deciding whether or not to hire an outside writer or editor can be challenging. Often, the cheapest easiest solution seems to just do the project yourself.

Many times, however, the opposite is true: an independent writer can get the job done faster, better and, therefore, more efficiently than if done in-house.

There are so many reasons that businesses hire an outside writer to complete a few tasks. I think these reasons fall into four general categories:

1. Expertise: If you want to produce something new, like a blog or marketing brochure, then working with a writer who excels at this specific translates into a successful final project.

2. Quality: While you have extensive knowledge of your business and organization’s objectives, you may not have the knowledge of grammar, creativity or eye for detail needed to perfect the project.

3. Speed & Efficiency: Professional writers generally turn around projects very quickly. This allows you to catch up on work when you have too much on your plate and finalize larger projects that have been pushed aside for too long.

4. Outside Perspective: Sometimes all you need are “fresh eyes” to complete the task at hand successfully. An outside writer or editor offers new ideas, creative approaches and solutions to challenges.

Powerful Statistics: The Cost of Bad Business Writing

We often hear about the qualitative costs of poor writing in business, including decreased motivation, communication breakdowns and a murkier corporate message. The effects of poor writing—and the mistakes and inefficiencies it produces—are difficult to even imagine, much less calculate.

Joseph Kimble’s study, completed back in 2003, is one of the best collection of case studies and statistics I’ve come across. He shares 25 examples of businesses and organizations that improved their bottom line and practices by improving their copy. By crafting writing that’s easier to read, employees make less mistakes, get things done faster and improve relationships with customers.

Here are a few (of the many) powerful statistics:

  • When FedEx revised manuals for ground operations employees, the average search time dropped from 5 minutes to 3.6. Better yet, employees found the correct answer 80% of the time, a significant improvement from only 53%. FedEx estimated they save $400,000 per year, just in the time employees spend looking for information. Imagine the additional savings from finding the correct answers more often!
  • After General Electric revised a software manual, customer calls and messages to their support team dropped by 125 calls per month. They estimated a savings of $375,000 per year for every single customer with the revised manual.
  • By rewriting memos to officers, the US Navy determined they would save $23-37 million each year since officers took 17-23% less time reading.
  • When the US Army tested two versions of a business message asking the reader to perform a specific task, those who received a well-written, “high impact” letter were twice as likely to complete the task on the same day they received it.

How about your organization? Do you have any examples of how bad writing is costing you? What about how better writing is saving money and improving business? 

What are You Reading?

Are you reading anything interesting right now? I’m fortunate to be reading two very interesting and intriguing books.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingby Susan Cain

This impressive best-seller was on my “to read” list ever since it was released in January. Once I finally got my hands on Quiet, it certainly lived up to expectations. Cain carefully portrays the many advantages of introversion — the ability to focus deeply, think creatively, forge strong relationships, analyze risk, listen well and much more. Weaving research from neurology, psychology, sociology and personal interviews, Cain describes how introverts–who comprise one third to one half of the population–contribute to our world but, unfortunately, are often undervalued.

There are many fascinating aspects of Quiet, whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert or somewhere in the middle. I especially enjoyed learning about introversion’s connection to innovation and creativity in the business world. Often, brainstorming sessions with many people is considered the best way to develop new ideas, but research shows that this simply isn’t true. The ideas generated from these sessions generally come from the loudest voices. Introverts and extroverts work best in smaller groups, instead, where they have time to flesh out their ideas until they feel ready to present fully-formed concepts to the larger group. When businesses allow employees the solitude they need–days working from home, an enclosed office or quiet spaces for thinking–collaboration and productivity benefit greatly. Also, Cain explains why introverts tend to make better leaders for extroverted teams, and vice versa, even though American businesses tend to favor extroverts for all leadership roles.

Quiet is highly useful for all business writers who communicate to both introverts and extroverts, for those who work with introverts, and introverts who want to learn more about themselves. Cain passionately argues that we all need to be true to ourselves and pursue projects we’re passionate about with self-awareness. Writing, for example, is uniquely solitary work. For many introverts, this may come easily, while presenting the work to others will take extra preparation. Extroverts, on the other hand, may need to balance their writing work with energizing networking events and lunches with colleagues. With self-awareness, respect for others’ differences and confidence in your personal talents, your business will benefit from each others’ unique strengths and individuals will accomplish more.

As God Commands, by Niccolo Ammaniti

Gritty may be the first word that comes to mind when describing this novel to a friend. Ammaniti’s crime fiction is very popular in Europe, but As God Commands doesn’t follow the standard “who did it?” story arc. Instead, we know from the beginning that Rino, the unemployed Neo-Nazi father of adolescent Cristiano, will commit a crime in an attempt to provide for his friends and son.

The graphic violence and steely circumstances may be hard to handle at times, but the characters’ love for one another is depicted artistically. The cinematic plot torques each character to the absolute limit, until there’s seemingly no other option but impulsive aggression. There’s no doubt that a crime will happen, but the question of who will suffer makes this a true page-turner.

While reading this novel, I’m amazed by Ammaniti’s skill in crafting a perfectly paced and suspenseful story–and wonder how these elements could be better infused into business writing. Fiction writers practice pace and suspense diligently, while business writers tend to focus more on clarity. Speeches, presentations and articles, however, all need to be intriguing if we expect others to read them. Pace and suspense are vital to engaging writing, no matter the genre.

How about you? Have you read a thought-provoking book recently?