MANAGEMENT expert Peter Drucker claims that more than 60 per cent of all management problems result from breakdowns in communication.
A major study by the Rockefeller Foundation found that 68 per cent of customers who stopped buying from their regular suppliers did so because employees failed to communicate effectively with them.
Evidently, the ability to communicate with precision has a tremendous impact on the bottom line. One way to communicate precisely is to put it in writing.
Executives can multiply their influence by learning the techniques of forceful writing. High-powered writers learn to focus words the way a laser beam focuses light.
Here are some guidelines:
Focus your objective. What is the purpose of the material you want to write? Writing can help you achieve the five Is: It can inform, inquire, influence, instruct and incite.
Focus on your audience. Written materials such as reports and brochures can be valuable positioning tools. They should be written with a specific audience in mind — potential customers whom you wish to influence to buy your products or services.
Focus your content. Make sure that your message is for the right audience. Don’t let unnecessary ideas intrude on your principal message. To quote Professor William Strunk Jr, the renowned authority on English usage: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
Focus your organisation. A good piece of writing flows like a symphony. Organise your material so that each topic flows easily and naturally to the next.
Focus your clarity. Some writers think they can hide fuzzy thinking by burying it under a mass of words. To have impact, ideas must be expressed precisely and concisely. Lincoln’s Gettysburgh Address required only 275 words, and 196 of them were of one syllable.
Focus your refinement. Perfection rarely emerges from a first draft. Great writing is rough copy that has been revised and edited. Be your own toughest editor, but don’t stop there. Let others read what you have written before you submit it to your audience. You know what you meant to say, but you won’t know how others may interpret it until they read it.
Focus your results. Unless results are built in, they don’t happen. Good writing always does four things: It creates a feeling. It gives an idea. It gives the reader a benefit. It produces a desired response.
Anatomy Of An Entrepreneur by Dr Joe Jacobs, chairman of Jacobs Engineering, is a fascinating read and a good example of clear writing.
Here are a few techniques in his writing that may be helpful:
1. Get your thinking straight
All communication begins with thoughts. Think about the things you want to say. What is the most important point? What facts, data or arguments do you need to support this point? Organise your points in the order of importance, along with supporting points. Then decide upon an effective, attention-getting introduction. Next, present your material in order of importance. Conclude by summarising the material or telling your readers how you want them to respond to it.
2. Write what you mean
In face-to-face communication, the speaker can receive immediate feedback from the listener. In written communication, the feedback is not immediate, and you may not receive any. So, you must get your point across accurately the first time, or your communication will be futile.
3. Get to the point
If you are writing a letter to ask for an appointment, ask for it in the opening paragraph. If you want more information, request it. If you want someone to buy something, ask for the order.
4. Be concise
Keep sentences and paragraphs short and simple. Always use the shortest and the most familiar words. Don’t endeavour when you can act. Don’t utilise an instrument for manual excavation when you can dig with a shovel.
5. Be real
Each of us has a personality, a blending of traits, thought patterns and mannerisms — which can aid us in communicating clearly. Be natural, and let the real you come through. Don’t try to write like a Harvard scholar unless you really are one.
6. Use images
A picture is worth a thousand words because we think in images or mental pictures. A good example is the term that once divided the Communist world from the Free World. It was just another political boundary until Winston Churchill made it more vivid by calling it the “Iron Curtain”.
When you have an abstract idea you want to express, try to think of something familiar to liken it to. Make sure it’s familiar to you and to your audience.
Communication is not a nice-to-have skill. It is essential to success in the business world. To produce and market the products and services to support the billions of people who now inhabit the earth requires levels of communication that was undreamt of in previous centuries. When the quality of your product depends upon the collective efforts of dozens, hundreds or thousands of individuals, communication becomes the lifeblood of your enterprise.