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The 7 Secrets to Communicating Clearly

#6 in Our 20 for 20 Series

Welcome to 20 for 20 where we share our 20 best tips for email marketing and business to celebrate our 20th anniversary.

Here’s the problem I want to help you solve today:

Clear communication is hard.

Common communication mistakes make it even harder.

The problem with communicating clearly is that there are at least two people involved, which means each person has his or her own interpretation of what’s being said.

Another big challenge is that we often aren’t communicating face to face. In today’s remote working world with different time zones, that’s often impossible, so we rely heavily on written communication.

This creates real challenges in communicating clearly because the receiver doesn’t have the benefit of speech or non-verbal clues to understand the tone or ask for clarification.

Here at Email Broadcast, we operate as a remote team. Communicating clearly is so important that we actually work at it and train on it. We have a very high standard for clear communication because when done correctly–it saves everyone time and frustration. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Poor communication (usually from people who are focused on working “quickly”) actually wastes time and money. So I think it’s a skillset that is worth working on.

Today I want to share with you a document we use that helps us to remember to communicate clearly.

But before we get to it, I have to warn you that you may have to have a paradigm shift–especially if you’re the boss. You have to slow down to go faster.

Here’s what I mean: When writing instructions for someone, the standard can NOT be “Do I understand what I mean?” which is the very low bar that many people use to send information. What the standard really needs to be: “Is this so clear that there is almost zero chance of misunderstanding?” This standard may take some extra words, some extra time, and potentially may cause you to repeat yourself before you click send, but it’s still worth doing.

Remember that it’s not the efficiency of the WRITING that’s important, it’s the efficiency of the COMMUNICATION and WORK that’s important. Or, if you prefer the old adage–a stitch in time saves nine.

To elaborate, if you save yourself a minute or two by writing quickly, but your message is unclear–this can have a cascading effect that wastes everyone’s time–including yours. If your directions are unclear, the person will probably have to ask for clarification–and since this writing will likely be in an email or Basecamp or Slack, there will automatically be a delay because that’s the nature of the medium. The other possibility is that the recipient will simply guess what you meant and spend time doing the wrong thing.

Now both you and the recipient will have to deal with the instructions a second time–adding frustration to both sides that could have been avoided with more clarity. And since time has passed, you may have eaten up any lead time for this to-do item causing both parties further stress.

OK, now that you understand WHY it’s important to communicate clearly in writing, here are some practical tips on exactly how to do that:

  1. Number your items if you have a long list (like I’m doing here). Long paragraphs force the receiver to reread a paragraph 10 times to make sure they got everything. If you have more than two things, do yourself and your recipient a favor and make a numbered list. Not bullets–numbers, so if they need to reply, they can just use the same numbers you did. This is also important so make sure each item gets done. If you send a list of seven things, but only six get done–that causes so much frustration, but it’s your fault. If you bury six different to-do items in a paragraph, you’re asking to be disappointed. Don’t do that. Make a numbered list instead.
  2. Use names for assignments. Don’t just say “Let’s make a copy of the document…” Instead, say “Kim–please make a copy of the document…” even if it’s obvious. Everyone appreciates clarity and you can be the hero by saving everyone’s brain cells.
  3. Include background information. If it would be helpful for the person to know WHY or what the GOAL is. Take an extra moment to be clear on what the ultimate outcome is. “Hey Larry–our biggest client has been complaining that their template for automated message number three is not responsive, and they are up for renewal so we really need to show them the love right now. Could you please fix this?” This will help Larry understand the importance and urgency of this to-do item.
  4. Be extremely specific. If you see that the social icons in the email footer need to be a different color to stand out, you can’t just say “Please change social icons color” and expect perfect execution (yeah, this actually happened). If there are social icons in other places in the template, those are likely to get changed as well–causing frustration for both you and the person doing the work. And since you didn’t state a specific color then you will likely not get the color you were looking for. If you said, “Larry–please change all the social icons in the footer only (not the header icons), to this Pantone code: ‘fffccc’” then you can expect proper execution.
  5. Avoid pronouns like “they or them.” Use specific language. Instead of “When he sent it to them something went wrong,” say “When Ken sent the document to the client Matt Askins, something went wrong.”
  6. Be overly clear. Before you hit send–reread your note asking yourself the entire time: Is there any possible way that what I’m saying could be misinterpreted, misconstrued, or not received exactly how I want? Then and only then should you hit send. Go slow to go faster.
  7. Bonus: Consider the proper medium. If you spend a whole bunch of time on an email because you’ve included lots of details and background information and story–ask yourself this question: Should this have been written, or should this have been a MUCH SHORTER phone call instead (backed up by a quick email with bullet points)? Or if the email contains a bunch of emotion, consider waiting 24 hours to cool down, then change the medium to a phone call instead. Email is great at communicating data, not great at communicating emotion.

There you go… Use these seven tips when using written communication and you’ll save yourself and your teammates untold amounts of time–and frustration–this year.

For every 20 for 20 video we give away a prize, and today’s prize to help you communicate clearly is this really cool lavalier microphone that plugs right into your phone or computer. I like it because it has a really long cord making short and medium shots a breeze. Congratulations to Graham at ******@slohomehelp.com.

In our next 20 for 20, I’m going to talk about the amazing power of email marketing segmentation. Make sure you don’t miss that one, and in the meantime, be sure to sign up for our 20 for 20 campaign if you haven’t done so already.

7 Tips For Communicating Clearly
Oh, I almost forgot–we’ve also put these seven helpful tips on a downloadable PDF. I highly recommend you print these out and put it on the wall next to your workstation until these become second nature.

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