How many times have you received an email, interoffice IM, or text message that made you wonder what the person was trying to communicate? How many times has an email made you wonder if someone was mad at you? How many times have you received a message that left you with more questions than you had before you received the communication?
Based on numerous conversations I’ve had this year, this appears to happen quite often.
Think you might be an offender? Read some of the most common complaints I’ve heard. Not sure what steps you can take to communicate more effectively? Here are useful tips to help you improve.
OH NO! Not the ellipsis…
The use of the dreaded ellipsis, more commonly known as dot, dot, dot (...), is probably the #1 concern I’ve heard about this year. The Merriam-Webster and Cambridge dictionaries indicate that the correct time to use an ellipsis is when the context of the surrounding text makes the meaning of the missing words clear.
Unfortunately, it appears that most of the time the ellipsis is used more as a literary device that’s intended for the reader to use their imagination to fill in the gap and the intended meaning of the writer. The majority of us are not writing our work communications to have literary value, so the use of the ellipsis should be limited to when the meaning is completely clear. Something as simple as “Thanks…” can leave the reader wondering if you are truly thankful, if you are employing sarcasm, or if they didn’t perform up to expectations, whereas “Thank you for completing this.” doesn’t allow for much misinterpretation.
This year I have personally received several IMs and texts with abbreviations that I had no idea of the meaning of. These ranged from NBD to CAD to SOT.
I had to ask the person on each of them what they meant because I couldn’t figure out anything for NBD (“No Big Deal”).
I don’t use Auto-CAD, which I thought the person was trying to tell me they were doing something in
, instead of what they meant, which was “Press Control-Alt-Delete.”
I thought that the person sending me SOT was calling me an SOT; instead, they were saying they were Short On Time.
While it may (or may not) be appropriate to cut down your personal vernacular to no more than three-letter abbreviations, it doesn’t do your coworkers any favors or shorten your communication time by requiring them to ask you to explain the meaning of your message. It also shouldn’t be a requirement that people search for sites
that explain what the other person means.
Learn to write well
Another way to keep communication simple, clear, and in the realm of “good” is to use proper sentence, paragraph, and email techniques.
- Ensure that your emails have a subject (that pertains to the reason for the email). Don’t overcomplicate your emails by including too many different subjects in one email. Many people refer back to subjects to find a previous communication, but if you’ve opened a completely different topic using an old email as a reply-to, you make it harder for your coworker to reference your information.
- Use paragraphs properly. Keep the topic of each of your discussion points in their own paragraph with supporting sentences. Reading an email that has one paragraph that covers three to five topics without a break for the reader is difficult at best—and most likely won’t get read at worst.
- Keep it simple. Think about how you can get your point across without including the kitchen sink and all its contents. I came across a post the other day that says if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t know it well enough. That may be true in some cases; in others, I think that people feel the need to defend their ideas, explain the decades-long history of the topic, or maybe the long explanation makes them feel intellectually superior. Regardless of the reason, stop, re-read your work, and see if you can simplify your message. Your recipients will appreciate it.
In electronic communication, nonverbal communication is eliminated. Often the tone of the message can be absent or subject to misinterpretation. Communication becomes one-sided, and the emotional content of the email is more likely to be misunderstood. For that reason, ensure that the messages you send communicate respect, are service-oriented, and support safety within your organization.
This holiday season, give your employees, coworkers, customers, and vendors the gift of good communication—and carry that out throughout 2015!