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Keep It Simple: Expanding Your Sphere Of Influence Through Better Business Communications
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

People of influence are the men and women within an organization whose opinions count - not necessarily because they rank high on an "org" chart but - because they have acknowledged experience or are associated with people of authority. This article is one in a series of five articles on how to expand your sphere of influence through better communications.

I just completed Sandra Post's short game golf clinic. (Notice I said completed, not graduated from.) One of the best tips I received was "keep it simple." No matter what club you are using or the distance you are trying to hit, use the same basic stroke.

If you add fancy footwork, a unique flick of the wrist or extra lower body movement, you may connect occasionally but, in the end, you'll create more problems. Be consistent. That way, even under pressure, you'll always remember exactly what should be done to succeed.

This advice applies equally well to the world of business communication. People judge you all day, every day, on many factors including the words and phrases you use. Too often, business people believe they will appear more professional if they cloak their written and spoken messages in pompous words and clichés. But it doesn't work. Don't try to impress your readers or listeners. They are too busy to find convoluted messages interesting or useful.

In writing
Focus on what the reader wants to know and needs to know and deliver that message, using words the reader can easily understand. Contrary to popular belief, polysyllabic words and passive voice sentences will not make you look professional in the reader's eyes - only clarity and conciseness will.

In preparing e-mails
Tell the reader why he should read your e-mail in the opening line. Too many writers deliver an e-mail in a chronological order. They give the background information first and wait for the last screen before telling the reader what they want from him. As many people read opening paragraphs to decide whether to continue reading, backward writing is not effective. Deliver "the hook" first.

If you have a deadline, place it in the subject line. That way every time the reader opens his inbox, he'll see your time line.

In listening
Use your eyes, as well as your ears, to listen. Don't busy yourself mentally rehearsing how you are going to top the speaker's comments. Keep it simple. Stay in the moment and work with the information the speaker is giving you. Ask him questions to extend his thoughts and to further clarify his viewpoint.

In leaving voice mail
Deliver a strong, upbeat and brief message. Don't get cute. Be polite, firm and assertive. You have only 10 to 15 seconds to make a good impression. Never start with "I'm sorry I missed your call." No one believes it.

Offer callers the option of reaching someone immediately. Say what you need from them - a message, a name, a phone number. Tell them when you will return their call or the best time to call you back. Let them know if the message has a time limit. Change your messages as often as necessary.

In speaking
People take their cues from your language when deciding whether or not they want to co-operate with you. If you bluster, exaggerate or try to upstage others, you won't gain credibility. Winning speakers communicate in a straightforward fashion. They project positive expectations, give credit where it's due, speak decisively, and tell the truth.

Whether you are swinging a club on the golf course or communicating in the business world, remember - for a positive finish - keep it simple.

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