The Quest For Clear Communication

June 23, 2015

By Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I have a great support staff. They are attentive and responsive to client needs and take their roles in supporting our clients very seriously. I cringe, however, when I read some of their email responses to client inquiries. When I overhear them leaving messages on client voice mails, I know I would not understand them if I were the client. I do bring this up and try to show them how the messages could be received, but the behaviors don’t change. I know they want to do well and succeed. How do I coach them for clearer communication?

David R.

Dear David,

In addition to working as a consultant in this industry, I am also a college professor. I can affirm that strong writing and speaking skills are in short supply. Most people learn to write an English paper or present a speech, but they don’t have a chance to learn to write for business applications.

I find it helpful to provide a framework or step-by-step process that they can follow as an outline for communication. For example:

  1. Before they compose the email or leave the voice mail, have them write down their desired outcome. Have them state: I am writing (or calling) because of (fill in the blanks for this objective).
  2. Have them practice removing superfluous information. I find when I read emails or documents that the writer has repeated him or herself several times. Less is more when it comes to communication.
  3. Teach them to state what they want at the outset and at the close. “This call is to give you the information you requested….” Then they give the information. At the close, they say, “I’m hoping this information answers what you needed, but please let me know if you need anything else.”
  4. Ask them to identify the 2-3 most critical points to be made in bullet points for an email or in quick sentences for a voice mail. If they can organize their thoughts and be clear on what they want to communicate at the outset, they will come across as more organized when they write or leave the message.
  5. Have them be sure to end with a Call to Action and contact information. This seems so obvious, but I have personally spent hours trying to find how to get in touch with someone because their email or voice mail gives me no contact information to get back to them. Make it easy for someone to know what you are asking them to do (if there is a next step) and how to reach you if there is a question or a problem.

I realize it may seem like hand-holding to create this sort of outline for your staff, but many people never get a framework to follow and they don’t learn how to be clear in their communication. Giving your staff the tools they need will help in the quest for clear communication.

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