20 Jan Effective Messaging – 4 Questions to Ask Before Hitting Send
We’ve all received a text message or email that leaves us scratching our heads — was the sender employing sarcasm? Masking anger? Suggesting the recipient is dense? Or, perhaps, it was just an innocent message with the misfortune of coming across negatively because of the reader’s headspace at that moment.
I’ll be the first to admit that tone is notoriously difficult to master via email. It’s usually best practice to call or speak with someone directly when you have an important or sensitive matter to discuss.
However, it’s not always possible to say things in person. What are some ways to write an effective email that comes across clearly and is interpreted correctly by the recipient? Here are four questions to ask yourself before composing a message:
(1) Who is your audience from a functional perspective?
What your target audience does for a living will always determine your tone and language. As you sit down to write, ask yourself:
- What jargon is readily understood, and what needs to be explained?
- What terms and concepts are foundational and understood, and what terms and concepts need to be introduced and defined?
- What is the work culture like in that career or industry? Do people prefer to speak colloquially, or academically?
When your language does not suit the audience, the tone can come across as condescending.
(2) What is the contextual reality of your audience?
You must understand what your audience has been going through.
Several years ago, I worked with an organization that underwent significant structural changes related to regulatory updates in the industry. Many of these changes needed to be immediately implemented, and there was a lot of tension within every department to get it done in time. The contextual reality of this company swiftly and drastically changed from the status quo to a “new world order” almost overnight.
It took several years to completely overhaul this company, and by the middle of this change, the audience consistently wore a set of “regulation-coloured lenses” through which they interpreted all learning to be an extension of this change (even when it wasn’t).
- You must understand what the company or industry is currently working with so that you know what the reader’s frame of mind is.
- Consider that your frame of mind will change how you interpret information.
- This will give you a reference point from which to write, which will help you connect with the reader.
It is important to ask these contextual questions so that you get a better idea of where and why to apply emphasis and tone.
(3) What is your intended impact?
Given that the company’s changes were driven by regulatory requirements, their eLearning courses needed to apply stress and pressure onto material that would otherwise be more relaxed.
- There are several ways to communicate an idea. The kinds of words you choose can add or remove stress in effective ways.
- Use stress like you would use salt: sparingly, and only when needed. Too much stress, too often, reduces the efficacy and makes the audience lose interest.
- Consider whether the material intends to correct an action or reinforce a good behaviour. Apply your tone accordingly and remember that positive reinforcement is an effective tool.
(4) What are the unintended impacts?
This question is loaded with assumptions. It’s not always possible to know the full impact of your actions (unless you’re a time traveler!).
The best rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether it is possible for your material to be misunderstood by someone.
- Consider who the audience is:
- Personal realities (generational, gender, cultural, family, etc.)
- Where are they in the company or in their career? (fresh recruits, “part of the furniture” veterans, etc.)
- What are the major changes currently happening around them? (industry shifts, company changes, political landscape, etc.)
- Check yourself! Have someone proofread for you and provide their feedback.
- Ask others to tell you what they think you’re saying. If it matches, great; if not, change the wording.
You can’t always control your message, or how it’s received, but you can control your delivery of that message and reduce the likelihood of being misunderstood.
Communication is key to the success of any business or project, including corporate learning. If you’re not seeing your training transfer into application in the workplace, perhaps the message is not being received as you intend. Contact Flint to ensure your learning solution achieves the understanding and behavioural change you need.