I recently led an onsite training about effective business writing. Each attendee was asked to come prepared with a sample email that conveyed the message, “The office will be closed on Friday.” The challenge was that their email should be concise and express this message but using as few of the those words as possible   All of the attendees, though unsure handed in their samples professing that their emails fit the bill.

As email is the prevalent means of communication in business today, being able to communicate clearly and concisely (whether virtually or in person) are two crucial skills that are often overlooked. Many times, two co-workers will interact and both come away from the experience with two completely different messages. As Henry Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

In the training, I began to review the attendees’ submissions, which began a heated discussion. I explained that their emails assumed too much from their readers  and their use of subject lines was non-existent. Furiously, hands flew up all around the room. “Well, the office is going to be closed”, said one person, “what more should there to be say?”

These email samples were ambiguous and their messages could be easily interpreted differently than they had intended, leading to a waste of time and energy, as well as the potential for misunderstandings.

If that was not enough, none of the sample emails had a specific subject line. Most of us are bombarded with email so the subject line becomes the filter that is used to evaluate seemingly unnecessary or irrelevant messages. If the subject line doesn’t immediately capture your attention, what do you do first, yes  you move on to the next message in your inbox—even though the main body of the email may contain information that might be of value

Being an effective communicator means that while you always knows what  you’re writing about, your reader may or may not. Because of the nature or tone of your email,misunderstandings can happen. When you send a message virtually, you’re asking your reader to take the time out of their day to read it, process it and then respond.

I concluded the training by explaining the best way to be concise. Short, straight to the point emails provide a clear message without using too many redundant or extraneous words. The subject line should open up the conversation and a well-balanced message will continue this by giving additional information, leaving no questions in the mind of receiver. Most of these email samples ran on for three or more sentences. Shorter sentences are much easier to read. Have you ever read a long message or story and said to yourself, “When is this person ever going to get to the point?”  When you are indirect in your communication, and avoid getting to the point, or when you tend to hint at things, you may be giving out mixed messages What none of the attendees seemed to grasp was this effectively can undermining their ability to build relationships

The next hand that was raised belonged to a man who insisted his email had been concise, just like I had asked. Though his email had been concise, he had made another type of error. I explained that while condensed communication is important, he also needed to make sure that he was not so direct that people viewed him as curt, abrupt, or unfriendly. Clearly, he had confused being concise with being too direct. Getting straight to the point can be viewed as blunt or unkind if the tone of message and the words you choose are tactless.

I went on to explain the steps to take to write a concise email that  would let their co-workers know the office would be closed. Firstly, you should indicate the dates clearly, providing both the name of the day and the full date in the context of the message. Don’t go into too much detail for the reasons why the office is closed. A simple statement should be enough. Choose your words deliberately, construct your sentences carefully, and use grammar properly. By writing clearly and concisely, you will get straight to your point in a way your audience can easily comprehend. Time is of the essence and every word counts.

 I invite you to share your experiences or thoughts, or comments. You can email or call me for more information on soft skills/interpersonal skills workshops that can transform employees.