Like many others of my generation, I learned to read with the affable assistance of Dick, Jane, Sally, and their forward-thinking pooch, Spot. Simple watercolor pictures mentally transformed themselves into written words every time I saw Spot run. I witnessed Sally’s excitement at how Dick’s toy airplane would “go up, up, up.” I applauded when Jane took charge and encouraged her brother to “Run, Dick, run. Run and See.” Of course, if I turned my back for one second, the incorrigible Spot would be scampering off somewhere else again.
Spot did a lot of running as I recall—and when it comes to keeping track of all of my written business correspondence, like Spot, I sometimes feel like I’m chasing my tail.
I recently asked members of the RediscoverCourtesy.org LinkedIN Group to provide examples as to the Top 10 Rules for Professional Courtesy. This very passionate and optimistic group provided many more than a simple ten items. Included on their various lists were compromise, listening, respect, honesty, etc. However, it wasn’t until I mentioned “reading” that the group took notice of this specific issue.
Group member Julia Lathrop, a Biotechnology Research and Development Consultant from Washington, DC commented, “[People who don’t read] appear to be sending the message that they are too busy and their time is more important—which feels very dismissive. “
Candidly, the most common problem I encounter in business can be described in one sentence: people don’t seem to take the time to read anymore. Knowing that Dick and Jane did a pretty darn good job at teaching this skill, as did those who came after them, have we forgotten how to read or do we, once again, serve up today’s most popular standby excuse: I don’t have time.
In my case, a disproportionate amount of my workday seems to be spent confirming, reminding, waiting, and (oh, the horror) assuming.
I would like to believe I am a very clear written communicator. Knowing that the average business professional can literally receive hundreds of emails daily, I try to be clear and concise as well as end by summarizing action items and desired deadlines for all involved. Why do I go to this effort? Not just because I describe myself as borderline “Type-A-impaired,” but to promote efficiency while minimizing wasted time and possible errors. Of course, this is also what a courteous professional should do.
Nonetheless, do I still receive questions that have been previously answered in written correspondence? Yes. Would proactive, “what if” thinking lift efficiency in written communication to an even higher level? Yes. Do providing brief, project-status updates put others at ease insofar as how your progress relates to their workload? Absolutely yes.
A few months ago, an important, mission-critical email was forwarded to me without any written explanation from the sender. Though I took extra time to peruse the email string included, I was unable to determine the desired next step. As a result, the next day saw four different people exchange 12 separate emails in an attempt to understand and move forward appropriately.
Is anyone really saving time by not carefully reading and understanding important information? No.
I can’t fix the extraordinary amount of inbound email each of us receives. My most important “response filter” is to determine if the sender has thoughtfully taken the time to email me personally—and their content clearly and succinctly backs up my assessment. In these cases, they have demonstrated respect for my time, and my business, and I try to respond in kind.
In summary—thick proactively, write clearly, read thoroughly and, like Dick’s beloved toy airplane, see your productivity “go up, up, up.”
One Big Can of Awesome Sauce by Randall Kenneth Jones
A Stupid Article by Randall Kenneth Jones
Humorist, Editorial Writer, Speaker, and Entrepreneur Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of professional-courtesy initiative, RediscoverCourtesy.org, and the “confessional development” chronicle, AttackBunnies.com. His creative communications agency, MindZoo, is dedicated to the development of highly targeted and innovative written and visual communications for use across today’s wide spectrum of online and offline media.
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