MakovskyWednesday, January 14, 2015
Last week, my Makovsky Health colleague Chris Loblundo outlined steps to ensure you make realistic 2015 New Years’ personal resolutions – and then keep them. As a practice, we at Makovsky Health have done the same. Chief among these were two communications tropes: Less e-mailing and messaging (i.e., call or get out of your seat to speak with someone), and minimizing “reply all.” Well, who is not in favor of those? Accomplishment; however, takes discipline and forethought.
As a fresh start to the year, I came across a policy brochure from a previous employer. Called “Good Documents: Tools & Guidelines for Business Writing in a Litigation Age,” this missive was designed to provide colleagues with “keys to making your writing clear, precise and impervious to hostile interpretation.”
The reasons for this are twofold:
- It is important to create records that are clear, accurate and difficult to distort or misinterpret
- It is equally important to prevent “bad documents,” not creating them in the first place
What, exactly, is a “bad document?” Unfortunately, too many of us treat e-mails as conversations: an opportunity to convey information and also express opinion – or as platform for venting. Conversations are ephemeral, e-mails are permanent documentation – and, in the legal sense, discoverable. These are a permanent footprint. The next time you are tempted to “let off steam” in an e-mail, ask yourself two questions:
- Would I behave that way in person – face-to-face (probably not)
- Would I say things that way in a formal memo or letter (again, probably not)
The most effective ways of starting a communication are to:
- Define a reader outcome. What would like your readers to do, feel, think, or conclude? Be specific.
- Choose your medium. Do I need this in writing? If so, do I need it in an e-mail?
- Develop a satellite outline. This is not as labor-intensive as it might seem. In fact, once you define your desired reader outcome, a focused outline will actually keep you from rambling aimlessly.
But how do you handle being on the receiving end of a “bad document?” As with e-mails you send, e-mails you receive cannot be undone. However, there are measures you can take to set the record straight:
- If the e-mail contains accurate information, but the tone is inappropriate or inflammatory, send back a brief note that you would like to take the conversation offline – and then immediately call the sender to resolve outstanding issues.
- If the e-mail contains misinformation or is misleading, respond with accurate information – without addressing any inappropriate tone. That would only incite further unwanted discourse.
Need more guidance on what constitutes a “Bad Document?”
Here’s a handy checklist of “think-twice” behaviors:
- Strong language
- Commenting on someone else’s area of expertise
- Publicly pointing out someone else’s error (known as “The Hero Syndrome”)
- Sarcasm or irony
- Attributions to others
- Limited information
- Violation of individual privacy
At Makovsky Health, we have a helpful “cultural policy” that e-mails that require more than a simple response be reviewed by a colleague for clarity and tone. This outside-in perspective can preserve many a relationship.
So start the year off on the right foot. Just watch that footprint you leave behind you.
– Lee Davies