This week I had a conversation with a colleague about how essential crisp well-positioned communication is in business, how much effort it takes, and how rare it is. Later, I had a twitter interaction about new graduates trying to get traction in job searches and how important it is for them to show a human side instead of just being a cover page template. These conversations got me thinking more than usual about communication, and I ponder it in one way or another almost constantly.
Do you know what I spend most of my time doing all day? Writing emails and chats to get people to focus their attention and act in ways I would like them to.
I am not just talking about sourcing candidates. Yes, I spend hours crafting emails that make candidates want to talk to me, instead of the other 400 people who sent them emails. I search for hidden methods of communication and I send out a series of messages designed to earn candidate attention and the opportunity to speak to them in real time. I have to prove my competence, credibility, and worth all day long.
But even when communicating with folks with whom I have an established relationship there is a knack to getting the results I need through emails and text. It is getting harder.
Our minds race in many directions constantly. Getting things done has never been easy, but today we communicate through a gajillion more vectors and most of them are instant! and provide immediate! feedback! Sometimes I get sick of all the little red blinking things on my phone. But the shot of dopamine feels so, so, good, doesn’t it? Mmmm.
I am resigned to the fact that I stalk people professionally. The times I get what I need in one call or email are rare. Gifts, really. Not business as usual. The better I communicate the more success I will have. The phone used to be my focus, but then email started to take over and then chat and mobile and now holy hell sometimes I talk with hiring managers on Facebook and I want to stab myself in the eyeball. But if I want something from someone, I must do the heavy lifting to increase my odds of getting it.
A Few Tips
Understand your desire We have to know what we want to happen in order shape an interaction. Self-awareness is rare. It comes in handy, and it can be developed. You owe it to yourself.
Realize we are in a competition for attention Everyone has the world, literally, at their fingertips all the time. In fact I’ve begun to imagine the world beckoning as distraction to anyone I write. A reminder to compete for attention with every moment, with every outreach.
Put your ego away Stop looking at your messages from only your perspective. Imagine how they are being read, and write sympathetically for your distracted and possibly slightly overwhelmed audience. Imagine their point of view. Give them the information they need to make what you want happen in the easiest way.
Keep it Positive No matter how pissed off I am I try to keep it out of my written communication. It doesn’t help a thing, and it just sets up a chain reaction of awful. Take out any words with a twist, or that have a barbed tone. Stick to the concrete, the factual. Don’t blame. Also assigning the most positive motive from someone sending you a message is rarely a problem and often can keep you from getting all worked up over nothing. I am training myself to read emails in a default positive mode. Though slow going, it has been useful.
Stick to the point, and stick your point Whether you are seeking information or trying to set up a phone call, you have to earn attention and shape actions by the words you use. It is muscular, it takes effort and a clear mind. The way you ask a question matters. Muddled questions with produce muddled results. Little is more frustrating than re-reading an important and carefully written email after sending it, and realizing that though you wrote a lot, you didn’t ask the concrete questions you wanted answered. That sucks. Don’t do that. Read carefully before hitting send and optimally in a different headspace. Get some space. This will help you get closer to the perspective of the reader and will help you hone your approach.
Think about perception as a lens we see through. The better we are it imagining how we will be perceived by our audience, the more effective we will be. Strangely, meditation has been the most important thing I have done to improve my business communication. It helps me see more possibilities of perception, and create more space space around my own point of view, and thus ultimately write better messages.
Ask a vague question without a muscular point of query, and you may get no answer. Except the absence of an answer is an answer. The goal is always to phrase things in a way that not only gets a response and a little red dot, but also shapes the action we desire.