Whatever the form of your communication, it is important to plan what you are going to say in advance. Of course, when you are speaking your plan cannot be too detailed, as you do not know how the conversation is going to develop – you should certainly not try to plan everything you are going to say.
You have probably come across telesales staff who have been told exactly what to say in any given circumstances; the conversation becomes rather stilted and they are at a bit of a loss if it deviates from their script.
But you should nevertheless have a good general idea of what you want to say and how you will express it. And in written communication, you need not spend a great deal of time on a very routine letter, but even that will need some planning.
Your Reasons for Writing or Speaking
Before you plan what you are going to say, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Should you be writing or speaking to the person concerned?
- Are you addressing the right person? You can waste a lot of time being passed from one person in the organization to another if you address the wrong person initially, and in the case of a written document, it could be lost or ignored in the process.
- Should anyone else be aware of what you want to say? All your planning can come to nothing if you do not address everyone who needs the information you are giving.
- Do you need a reply? If you do, and you do not let the other person know, you will have failed to achieve your purpose.
What is your purpose?
This might seem an unnecessary question. After all, you would not be getting in touch with the other person if you did not have a reason. But it is important to clarify in your own mind just what your purpose is, and to bear it in mind as you write or speak. Look at the letter below. Can you see what is wrong with it?
It is a good letter, but it is not suitable for the purpose for which it was written. Donald Benson obviously knew why he was writing to Mrs. Brown – to answer her complaint. But he did not have that thought clearly in his mind when he planned his letter. The result is that he gives a full explanation of how the problem arose, but he does not actually answer her complaint. Mrs. Brown is not likely to be interested in the details of how her table came to be faulty. What she wants to know is what the company is going to do about it – and Donald does not tell her.
Only by keeping in mind why you are writing or speaking to someone can you be sure that what you say is relevant both to the subject matter and to the person you are addressing. What Donald says is relevant to the subject, but not to the person. He should have kept the explanation to the minimum, apologized for the error, and offered some remedy. This underlines the importance of planning when you are about to speak to someone; it can be very easy to be side-tracked and forget your purpose.
What do you want to achieve?
Do not confuse your purpose with what you want to achieve; the two are related but different. For example, Donald Benson wrote to Mrs. Brown to answer her complaint – that was his purpose, although as we have seen the letter he wrote was not right for that purpose. What he wanted to achieve was to satisfy her, and to make her feel better about the company. So your purpose will dictate what goes into your letter, while the outcome you want will dictate the style and tone you use.
Who is your audience?
The first step towards achieving the outcome you want is to get to know your audience. The style, the tone, and even the content of your communication will depend very much on who you are addressing. First, your audience can be categorized according to their knowledge of your business.
With someone who knows something about the business generally but not about your organization, you might use some jargon that is specific to that area, but not words and phrases that have a specific meaning only in your organization. And with someone who knows both the business and your organization, you are likely to use both general business terms and jargon that is specific to your organization.
It is sloppy to provide inaccurate information, and it will reflect badly on you. But it can also cause other problems. Look at the e-mail below, sent by a company’s Systems Director to his colleagues.