“Company culture” is a phrase we hear a lot these days, most often in relation to either a company having one that is “toxic” or striving to create a “positive” one. We hear about companies redesigning their office layout to be more open and community-based, or allowing employees to pursue creative projects alongside their usual tasks, or offering flexible hours.
While all of these could contribute to making a company culture more positive, there is also a very simple, inexpensive, and important way you could improve your company culture: you could write better.
Think about the number of emails, documents, or instant messages you write in a day – then try to figure out how many you read from your colleagues and clients and partner companies. How many of them have personality? Warmth?
I think we all know at least one person who writes emails well – someone who checks the “clear content” box, but also checks the “personality” box, too. Maybe s/he is a little funny, always friendly, and communicates genuineness even in writing. Who do you know who writes emails you actually enjoy reading?
Now we can flip that and think about which emails or documents we have read that come across as (at best) short, flat, and abrupt, or (at worst) irritated, abrasive, or insensitive.
Ultimately, what is the major difference between the two kinds of messages?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I wade through emails, and ultimately I think there are just a few simple strategies the “good” writers use that we could all try to implement and create a better communication culture at work.
Here are 3 things I have noticed that you could reflect on as you write your own messages this week:
1. While the subject line should say what the most important content point is, the opening of the body of the message should lead in to the content with some warmth and personality. Too often people jump right to the “business” of a message but lose the opening that communicates a) we are starting a conversation and b) we see the audience of the message as real people. Think about how you’d start a verbal conversation with someone from your work right now. You might start with, “Hi! How are you? How is your summer going?” Do you often start emails with the same sort of audience-centered warmth in your greeting, or do you jump right to talking about the big meeting coming up in August?
The people who write particularly enjoyable messages often acknowledge how their audience is feeling and show empathy for that or connect to it in some way. Here is one example: “I know it may feel like summer has just begun and planning for this August meeting might not be on your radar yet, but if you are like me, the summer is already filling up and it is a shock that June is already almost over! Because I know we all have lots of BBQs, nice cold beverages, and family plans as our priorities right now—as we should!—we might all appreciate splitting up the work for this August meeting across several weeks so we don’t lose our summer cool by getting stressed out in late July. So here’s what I suggest…”
2. When it comes to closings, people who write good messages often acknowledge how they are trying to help their audience, how their audience may help them, or end on a light and humorous note.
Think about closings that help build a sense of connection rather than just ending a message. For instance, “If we each took on those pieces of the workload, I think we could all be prepped by August but continue to enjoy our weekends all summer. I know at my house, we have nearly every weekend filled with hiking, camping, someone’s wedding, or cornhole tournaments! I hope your weekends will be equally fun-filled and I am excited to see you all busting a move on the dance floor after Jerry’s wedding in a few weeks.”
3. I have also noticed that most writers who come across as warm and friendly just use simple language. If you typically use things like “aforementioned” and “see attached” and “ASAP” or other business quick-speak, you might think about breaking those down into more conversational language that sounds like how you would speak to a group or clients or colleagues.
While writing a message with these ideas in mind may take a little more effort – mostly to break out of your “default” way of writing – the effort is mild but the returns can be great. Imagine if all the emails you sent and received were like the few that you currently enjoy reading. Wouldn’t your company culture be more positive? You may feel like you know people a little better and that they know you, just by writing more audience-centered openings and closings as well as writing in simpler language. Give it a try this week!