Eliminate the need for expletives!#$

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I am often questioned by participants in my course when I say that they are not allowed to use expletives in their messages. Their point of view is as follows.

They send a request that requires some form of response. The recipient doesn’t respond, so they send the message again. By the fourth time, the expletives are added to the request. Only then do they get a response – maybe.

At this stage, I ask the participants to send me the four documents for review. In 99% of the time, the problem is that the communication purpose statement is incomplete, inaccurate or missing. 

Examples of effective communication purpose statements

  • The reason for writing the document (or communication purpose) is to request agenda items from the team who will attend the monthly management meeting.
  • The reason for writing the document (or communication purpose) is to respond to your concerns about the project.
  • The reason for writing the document (or communication purpose) is to update the team on the marketing project’s progress.

Once you have written the communication purpose statement, you can then change the wording to improve readability and tone.

For example, you could change the wording to, “I would like to …” or “The purpose of this document is to …” or “Could you please …

When you are responding to a polite request you have been sent, the communication purpose statement could be as simple as, “Following are the answers to your questions” or “As requested, here are the …

Now let’s get back to the expletives problem in the request message.

Usually, when writers feel the need to use expletives, they’ve gone straight into the issue and have only stated the request near the end of the message.

So, unless the reader reads the entire message (and unfortunately 75% of readers only scan documents, they don’t read them from beginning to end), s/he may not even see the request. (And if this is the case, who is at fault, the reader or the writer?)

Let’s work through an example together.

Dear Howard

I am having extreme difficulty obtaining answers to my questions from the IT Department in a timely manner. Early yesterday morning, I phoned Andy Applebaum to get an answer on how to access a procedure document in the document management system. A staff member needed specific instructions on how to complete a technical job. 

As Andy is away, the person I spoke to said I should try and call Joe instead. Eventually, at noon I discussed my problem with Joe. He said he would investigate and get back to me. Mid-afternoon Randy called me and advised me that I didn’t have author access authority. 

Today at noon I was informed by Joe that my authority level had been upgraded and I could now access the procedure. At long last we could get the job done.

I am disappointed that information we require takes so long to obtain. This is costing us time and money. Please recommend appropriate actions so that we may prevent this type of occurrence in the future. I would like to help in any way I can. So, if you would like to discuss the issue in more detail, please call me.

Regards
Darla

In the example, there is a problem with the accuracy and completeness of Darla’s communication purpose statement. A problem results when there is a discrepancy between the purpose stated in the introduction and the actual purpose and outcome expected. This is exactly the type of situation that can lead to misunderstandings and negative feelings. And these are the types of communication problems that are most costly to businesses.

Darla sees the document as a request and Howard probably sees the document as merely communicating a complaint (and he may have not even read the entire document). Darla will probably be unaware that the fault was hers and the problem could have been avoided altogether. 

Rewording the introduction and communication purpose statement as follows would have ensured a complete and accurate written communication.

Dear Howard

I am having difficulty obtaining answers to my questions from the IT Department in a timely manner. This is disappointing as it is costing us time and money. I would like to explain what has happened and then ask for your recommendations on how we may be able to help avoid this type of problem occurring in the future.

What is the communication purpose statement?

The communication purpose of any document is the reason for writing the document. It answers the question, “Why am I writing this document?”

Completing the following statement will give you the communication purpose statement.

The reason for writing the document is to ...

The problem is one of perception. The writer perceives the document’s purpose to be to request something and the reader perceives the purpose to be to provide information or to complain.