Remember those horrible school essays that you had to write and all those comprehension tests “Please fill out the correct form of the word in brackets?” When you start working, it all makes sense.
Ask around how many who have been working for many years, still go to Google to see which side the receiver’s address is supposed to go on the letterhead, left or right? But it is so much more than this. Written communication can become a tool to bring across a message to someone else, it can be used to drive a point of view over emails, it can become your file for all meeting minutes because you are expected to keep a record, it is part of marketing and strategic planning in any business, and it can even help you negotiate your salary or a project contract. Knowing how to express yourself in words in a way that forms an argument or tells a story is an incredible skill to have. And it doesn’t have to be only those in journalism or communication studies that can benefit, everybody can. In the society we live in where the Millennials and Gen Z are often accused of preferring text over talk, written communication is even more important. As a fellow Millennial, I would argue that the avoidance of phone conversations has often more to do with wasting time on unnecessary small talk than purely sending an email in half the time … but that is, as always, up for debate.
Nevertheless, imagine a rather challenging colleague at work taking you on a project that you know you have worked hard on, but they just have a way with words and using their seniority to shut you up. If you have practiced your written communication, you don’t have to back down one bit but keep your ground.
Example: Your colleague writes the following email after a discussion between you two where you didn’t argue your point well (hint hint – go practice your verbal skills in the mirror or record yourself and watch it back, it can be cringeworthy but very insightful!):
Thank you for the insightful discussion today. It is so pertinent that we familiarise ourselves with the facts to have these important brainstorming sessions and argue our points from a point of knowledge so that we can add value to the conversation and find viable solutions.
Does this sound nice to you? You were just told that you were an idiot who should read up before you open your mouth.
Maybe this colleague was loud and interrupted everyone and if you haven’t practiced your verbal communication or learned some empathy (the next skill in this discussion) you might retaliate with an angry email along the line of:
I wasn’t feeling very well today so I wasn’t on top of my game. It is not necessary to take it out on me and CC everyone in the office. You could’ve just talked to me. I know what I am talking about, I have a degree in this field. You didn’t even give anyone a chance to speak. Blah blah blah.
This will not get you anywhere. If instead, you contemplate what you want to say and practice it by reading it out loud or asking a friend to soundcheck for you, then you can answer the message with elegance but still, make your point. What about this:
It was indeed an insightful discussion, thank you for your contributions and for highlighting the aspects that needed further research and clarification. I would love to continue this conversation in the future and hear everyone’s opinion as I believe that will truly add value to guide the conversation forward and build our team cohesion.
See the difference? No one was rude, no one was name-calling another and in isolation, these emails look very positive. If the first email was not meant as an insult, the above message will be well received. If the email was indeed meant as a subtle insult, the sender will get the message that he/she is not running a one-man band.
It is all in the details and the peanut gallery will still be eating their popcorn!
Inspired by an article published in Forbes and written by Natalie Peart: The 12 Most Important Skills You Need To Succeed At Work.