This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?
Launched in 1987, this powerful public service announcement produced by Partnership for a Drug-Free America communicated the effects of drugs on the brain. And now in the 21st century, as we look at the current cultural landscape with our widespread use of social media and the internet, we can easily offer the same analogy regarding technology’s affect on our brains—and by extension on our ability to communicate.
How it works
Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, presents a convincing argument exploring how chronic exposure to the internet erodes our ability to focus. Carr refers to the internet as “a system of distraction” in his interview with Carolyn Gregoire.
The change is actually a biological one. According to scientists who study neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form and reorganize connections especially in response to learning or experience), chronic exposure to hyperlinks, byte-sized information, pop-up ads, and so on, trains our brains to seek out information at a faster rate. Since we are genetically programed to release pleasure/dopamine chemicals when we learn new information, responding to tempting hyperlinks imbedded in online articles actually makes us feel good when we click and dive into the (supplementary) information provided in online articles. (Think Pavlov’s dog). And down the rabbit hole we go leaving the initial text behind; before we know it, we are two or three hyperlinks away from where we began. Even awareness of a hyperlink is enough to distract the reader.
Over time, the cumulative effect is significant. We slowly lose our ability to focus. A national poll from Trending Machine shows Millennials are more forgetful than seniors because of a lack of focus long enough to commit facts to long-term memory. As Carr suggests, “…the process of adaptation doesn’t necessarily leave you a better thinker. It may leave you a more shallow thinker.” And as thinking affects how we communicate our verbal and written skills suffer equally. Let’s look at the ways this fast-paced processing affects our communication skills.
Organization and Style
Of all the ways the internet impacts writing, organization may be the most obvious. Social media platforms such as Twitter and SnapChat and even texting encourage us to communicate quickly—in terms of time and space. We are writing faster than ever with abbreviated language
Here is an example:
“the new policy on dress code they handed out last week is our last chance
2 keep us out of uniforms. the new super intendant as u all know is from spartanburg is using the saturday school crap 2 take a note on how many offenses we have & will use it 2 make her decision. so we ned 2 stop breaking the dress code or we might have 2 really fight uniforms next year.” Taken from Education World.
Although we know that context determines the style of communication we choose, many are now communicating in these condensed ways more frequently. It becomes second nature. The outcome? Disregarding the quality of the message as well as bypassing thoughtful communication of the idea message could become habitual and therefore diminish the efficacy of your communication whether written or verbal. This, in turn, affects productivity, advancement and eventually profit.
Additionally, the internet and social media are changing the profile of our readers. When we post on Facebook or tweet, we may not have a particular reader in mind, or we have a dim idea of the audience we are trying to reach. We communicate with everyone and no one at once. The consequence is we lose sight of a targeted audience.
Linked to knowing and considering audience is the purpose behind why we write. In more formal writing, we tend to know purpose. We want to persuade or entertain or tell a story. And while this is often true of a Facebook post when we make an announcement or a call to action, it is often true that we post to simply continue a streak or make an appearance on social media. In those cases are we writing to communicate or to promote ourselves? Are we writing to communicate emotions or are we writing out of obligation to address a mass entity that perpetuates our hunger for more likes and superficialities?
Is writing for social media really writing?
This is a real question. Of course, we are writing when we post or tweet or text. But are we writing well— with the same focus and efficacy? Chances are that expectations of social media require us to write quickly as possible which does not typically end in high quality writing.
But that does not mean we are obligated to behave in accordance with social media’s guidelines. We can, after all, take charge of what we say, of how long and how well we write. We do have the choice to slow down and make what we make public meaningful.
Carr recommends “unplugging” to allow our brains to rest from the unending distractions the internet provides. That is a great piece of advice. He is asking us to be more mindful of the act of writing for social media and taking control of the experience to make it more meaningful one post, text, tweet at time.
“Like sand on the beach, the brain bears the footprints of the decisions we have made, the skills we have learned, the actions we have taken.” Sharon Begley
Get Over It: Good Business Writing is Easier than You Think (and more important than you can imagine)Read Now
When people hear we run a business writing consultancy, they often respond with a grimace or uncomfortable smile and say things like:
Wow, you must be really smart.
Oh, I’m a terrible writer.
I’ll have to watch my grammar around you two.
Oh, don’t look at my website.
And so on.
Very few people launch into a discussion about having written a great proposal or grant or rallying a team with a stellar call to action through email. Even fewer dive in with questions about how writers work or what it takes to write with success. Instead, we hear about the barrage of ill-written emails and ‘just good enough’ proposals.
But we’re here to tell you that writing well can be one of the most gratifying and powerful skills of your career. In fact, good business writing can lead to promotions, improved relationships, client retention, and higher profit margins for companies. Empirical evidence suggests good writing matters especially in business. (Read more in our Newsworthy section.)
So it makes sense to care about writing and foster better provisional communications. It makes sense that anything we write should take priority if we want to make money, be promoted, or retain clients. So why do so many shrink away from writing better or writing at all? It could be that the very thought of writing poses a bigger problem rather than an opportunity, despite the obvious benefits.
This tendency is the likely result of having a fixed mindset about writing. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has explored and developed a theory of fixed versus growth mindsets. In a nutshell, Dweck discovered that people have two perspectives when it comes to intelligence and abilities. “Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait—they have a certain amount, and that's that. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time."
Those with fixed mindsets, according to Dweck, fear looking bad in front of others. They believe that things (like writing) should come easily without effort. This comes from being overly praised for the result rather than the process. On the other hand, those with growth mindsets, are less worried about how they look. They tend to see difficulties as opportunities to develop. Dweck writes, “Instead of thinking they were failing (as the students with a fixed mindset did), they said things like ‘I love a challenge,’ ‘Mistakes are our friends,’ and ‘I was hoping this would be informative!’ This more productive perception results from being praised for actions versus results and understanding that failure is part of a bigger process. Ultimately, Dweck believes that once you identify a fixed mindset, you can convert it to a growth mindset and take charge of the situation or activity. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept10/vol68/num01/Even-Geniuses-Work-Hard.aspx
Here are some tips for finding your way around a fixed mindset with writing:
Starting with the basic incentive of profitability is understandable, but for real change you need a commitment to being a more powerful writer and communications leader. Instead of thinking about the bottom line, consider the results of good business writing: increased confidence, engendered trust, greater collaboration, innovation. Imagine knowing the communications produced by you and your team with provide the platform for growth, and yes, profitability.
If you can clearly articulate the dream or the goal, start. Simon Sinek
How did you feel when you began your business or took leadership of a team? What were your intentions, goals, and ideals? Use those feelings and core values as your communications’ GPS.
Maybe you’ve lost sight of your core values—that spark that motivated you? If so, go back to your mission statement. Or grab a pencil and write out a new one, one that reflects truly and deeply what you want your business to stand for. Think about what you offer your clients. Ask why they return time after time, or why they don’t. Consider the impact, positive or negative, of your written output—the emails, the proposals, and memos. Do they truly reflect what your business stands for? Are they building relationships or driving clients away? Make sure you are not creating platitudes that are empty but sound good. Think consistency, authenticity and clarity.
Here are three ways to get you started.
1. Think about content.
Start by asking how you can uphold those ideals in your written output. What do your communications look like if values are based on innovation? Or community? How do these values translate into your marketing, internal directives, proposals and reports? Do you represent yourself accurately? Does your message reflect your dedication to the community—even when firing an employee? Does your love of innovation shine even when you are communicating a setback in product development? If your core value is integrity, are you willing forgo using euphemisms to soften the blow of an uncomfortable admission? So you see, your messaging must speak to the ideal as often as it can.
2. Think about writing fundamentals.
Choose a vocabulary that reflects who you are. Sophisticated? Intelligent? Simple? Trendy? Accessible? Traditional? Also, sentence style matters. Keeping ideas simple and to the point suggests efficiency and authority. Once you have the writing style and tone, remember grammar. You can be conservative; however, knowing when to break from tradition and relying on less formal choices support certain values.
3. Think about practice.
It isn’t just what you write; it’s how you handle the communication.
The choice to 'cc' all those involved in a communication, for instance, sends a clear message of transparency and integrity. Responding to emails quickly suggests a value of efficiency and respect. Proofreading your work reflects excellence.
As your ideas develop, strategize with your team. Once the mission is understood, discuss goals openly as they relate to communication. To get everyone on board, encourage the contribution of ideas about how a strong communications plan can better reflect the company’s value system. The more buy-in you have as a team, the clearer your message will be.
The wonderful thing about aligning with core values (if you remain committed), is that your communications will become a constant reminder of why you do what you do and how that translates into what your organization stands for. And that is really saying something.
PEOPLE DON'T BUY WHAT YOU DO; THEY BUY WHY YOU DO IT. SIMON SINEK
If you are interested in producing a trendy sales pitch, launching a glitzy promotional campaign to wow your clients, or offering a tempting rebate customers simply can’t refuse, you can stop reading now. This blog is not for you.
But if you are an entrepreneur, business owner, or leader whose goal is to perpetuate customer loyalty and trust, if concepts like quality, authenticity, and purposefulness matter to you, if you are inspired to align your mission statement with all of your communications and build a organization founded on the original excitement that gave rise to the idea in the first place, read on.
Transform your communications. Transform your business. Really?
Does writing purposefully—in accordance with your mission/vision—affect your clients’ loyalty and your overall profitability? Do people respond to writing that embodies core values? Yes. Everything you write has (by default or design) an overall tone and agenda. Whether you are recommending a plan, writing a proposal, or a complaint, your business values should drive the message or purpose. However, it’s not likely we consider our mission statement when shooting off an email or sending a company memo. But we should. Here’s why.
In his seminal book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek presents a thought-provoking model he calls The Golden Circle. His theory states that businesses which identify and perform with a clear notion of their values, or Why, go beyond surviving. They thrive. Apple, Southwest, and Harley-Davidson, says Sinek, are such companies. They tend to rely less on shoddy sales gimmicks or overt manipulations to make money. The leaders of these companies defined their Why early in the game. In doing so, they fostered emotional relationships to their products and services. Consumers remain loyal to the brands—some to the point of tattooing a brand logo (Harley-Davidson) on their bodies. Conversely, companies who either fail to define or eventually lose sight of their Why (like Walmart after Sam Walton’s death) can lose the trust and loyalty of their customers. Understanding the basic premise of Sinek’s book can help lay the groundwork when it comes to understanding and using your Why (vision and mission statements) in defining and refining how you communicate in business—internally and externally.
“If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement. You’ll be better off without one. But if you have the fortitude to see the effort through, you can learn some important lessons from the few companies that have adopted meaningful corporate values.” Patrick M. Lencioni, Harvard Business Review: “Make Your Values Mean Something.”
Everyone likes a good story—so why not start with your own?
A good professional bio is founded in your personal story balanced with what people want to know about you. It opens a channel that allows others—employers, clients, colleagues—to get a sense of who you are allowing them to anticipate how you conduct business. A solid bio showcases you in a humble but confident way. So be authentic to garner the trust you need to succeed!
Many people are squeamish about promoting themselves. There are, however, practical strategies which can help showcase you at your very best. So, relax. You’ve got this.
Set the Groundwork
The first step in any bio writing process is locating excellent industry samples. A quality personal bio weaves together a fluid account of current information, past experiences, accomplishments, and personal interests. You can find them on the Internet—or better yet—from revered colleagues. Find a few examples that resonate to determine the feel you want to create for your own bio. Then ask yourself these key questions:
Now that you have the general idea, you are ready to dig a little deeper.
Build the Foundation
Think about where the bio will appear and then determine the level of formality needed in reaching your key readers (audience). Next, make a list of important facts/accomplishments/milestones that you want included. Is your bio describing the process of your professional development, personal journey, or both? Creating an outline helps guide your story.
Now, weave in personal details that invite readers to experience the real you. Do you want to start with a story, or sprinkle in facts to add supportive detail throughout your accomplishments? Allow your conclusion to leave the reader interested and inspired to contact you.
Craft Important Elements
What are the components of a strong bio? First, a good bio has to be accurate. But it also has to be interesting. You don’t want people to nod off, or click off, after a few sentences.
Here are some powerful questions that will help you define yourself. Of course, not all of the answers to these questions will go into the bio directly, but they will provide you with a perspective that will enliven the basics in your profile. Choose the ones that spark your interest. Then write a few sentences that widen the scope of your profile.
Your bio should ultimately show how you best benefit the client through personal and professional success, lifestyle, work ethic, and discovery. Look at it as your personal brand that reflects your true and best self. The goal is to create a positive introduction and make the client, employer, colleague more interested in working with you. With that:
And, if you absolutely don’t want to write it yourself, seek out a reliable writer who can do the work for you.
“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Eugene Ionesco
A powerful and mindfully crafted question can create confidence. Solid questions lead to breakthroughs, opportunities, resolutions, innovations, or even power shifts. Success depends on knowing what you want to ask and how to ask it.
While it seems counterintuitive, asking a well-crafted question actually puts one in a position of power—not one of vulnerability—even when the question appears deferential. Think about it. When a recipient in response to a project outline confidently requests clarification, she takes command of the situation. Furthermore, posing ideas through questions generates excitement, innovation, and discovery. One the most innovative thinkers, Albert Einstein, once asked: “What if I could ride a beam of light across the universe?”
So, it’s worth taking the time to look at how questions can be used in the workplace and how they can affect the outcome of a situation, goal, or event. Understanding a few, basic question types and using them deliberately and thoughtfully can add finesse to your communication style and effectiveness.
The Information Question:
Is something difficult to understand in an email, meeting, or report? The Information Question asks for facts, clarification, or definition and can be crafted in two ways. The direct, close-ended question requires a simple, yes/no response. The more complex, open-ended question requires more detailed information.
Let’s have a closer look.
A close-ended question can be used as an opener for an email, presentation, or sales call to generate thought or further conversation. It immediately directs your audience and requires a simple response. For instance, ask for an evaluation of circumstances: “Do you attract clients through your Linkedin bio?” The yes/no response would point toward a clear outcome, but more importantly it requires an examination/evaluation.
The open-ended question generates conversation. Rephrase the question above to: “What does your LinkedIn bio really say about you?” Notice how it stimulates thought and begs for a dialogue as well as a solution.
The Strategic Question:
A well-analyzed strategy plays a central role in helping teams and individuals estimate and plan—from how much food to order for a catered event to conducting risk assessment when insuring a piece of commercial real-estate. This the “how” and “why” category of questioning.
Building out a logical series of causal (if/then) questions will lead to new understanding. Asking strategic causal questions helps avoid potential pitfalls by seeing around and through problems. “What if we don’t know what we don’t know?” The query leads to solving a problem—gaining new insights and innovative discoveries or skill-building techniques.
Funneling is a strategic technique that requires beginning with general questions moving to more specific ones. When interviewing try getting the big picture first—“What is your vision for this company?” Then move on to more specifics such as, “What are your specific goals for this project?”
Building good analytical questions takes time. Make sure that you ask questions that benefit the whole team/organization for more successful results.
The Persuasive Question:
All of us practice persuasion daily whether it’s getting the IT professional to upgrade your software, or convincing your child to eat green beans. Different emotions motivate people to act or think differently. Therefore, the Persuasive Question can be used to destabilize or stabilize depending on how it’s asked. Let’s look at the two approaches:
The first question agitates the recipient and creates a need that the questioner can then fill with a product or service. The second yields hope and comfort thus empowering the recipient and builds trust.
A subcategory of the persuasive question is the Rhetorical Question. A rhetorical question does not require an answer because the answer is obvious. The question is asked to make a point or to persuade. Use rhetorical questions sparingly to produce an effect, mood or tone. For example, “Do pigs fly?” Obviously they don’t, but a point has been made.
That said be wary of using sarcasm, casting blame, or inciting any other kind of negative emotion with your question. This is rarely a good move. Review your original intent and make certain you are moving toward a desirable outcome. For instance, if a staff member declines a training opportunity you are offering and states she has “other priorities” that day, think before you respond with a harsh rhetorical question such as “Don’t you want to improve your understanding of the software?” While you may make your point clearly, you may also damage a relationship. Instead think of using an information question: “Is there a better time for you to learn the ins and outs of the software?” This approach addresses the real goal, which is to invite a colleague to participate.
So, what will make your questions more effective and daily exchanges more rewarding? Here are a few tips:
Remember, asking intelligent, thoughtful and strategic questions only reflects well on you.
Ready to give it a try?
Do you have an employee who regularly approaches you with great ideas, takes on new projects constantly, or adjusts easily to new circumstances? Is this person innovative, curious, and enthusiastic? If so, you are most likely the fortuitous employer of an “intrapreneur.”
Intrapreneurs are employees who exhibit entrepreneurial skills—inventiveness, creativity, adaptability, vision, resourcefulness—within a business structure. These individuals are both inspired and inspiring; they thrive on risk, change, and innovation.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, intrapreneurs are invaluable to your business, whether that business is small, medium, or large.
The term intrapreneur emerged in 1978 after Gifford Pinchot and his wife, Elizabeth, published a paper called “Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship.” The paper identified how businesses can thrive by capitalizing on entrepreneurial behaviors shown by certain employees. They emphasized that entrepreneurial behavior is not taught or cultivated. Rather, it is a natural predisposition, an innate set of characteristics.
According to Pinchot’s research, untapped intrapreneurs are hidden in most working environments. Unfortunately, they may not always be recognized—or rewarded sufficiently. As a result, these intrapreneurs may become discouraged, bored, and lose momentum over time. This could equate in a loss of productivity, business, and therefore profit.
This chart provided by a Forbes article on the topic shows how engagement levels can affect your business both negatively and positively.
Therefore recognizing these invaluable employees before they become too disgruntled and engaging them, encouraging them, and providing them opportunities to develop latent entrepreneurial skills, produces a transformation of both individual and business.
Providing ongoing training, support, and challenges for intrapreneurs is essential when encouraging their talents to boost efficiency and earnings. As the chart above reveals, the “Intrapreneur”/“Engaged" employee will have a more positive mindset and thus contribute greatly to the success of your business.
How do you identify an intrapreneur? Group training/development can help you discover the intrapreneurs already employed by your organization. Observe how your employees react to innovation. You can also provide company-wide buy-in strategies/incentives giving opportunity for exceptional solutions. The intrapreneurs will rise to the occasion consistently and effortlessly.
How do you cultivate a working environment that helps an intrapreneur thrive? Intrepreneurs thrive on freedom and risk. Create a climate where employees are given permission to think outside the box and move beyond the scope of their job descriptions. Cultivate a culture that embraces change (innovation), transparency and constant flow of communication—up and down the ladder.
How do you keep your intrapreneur engaged? Because intrapreneurs are naturally independent, a great way to engage an intrapreneur is to provide him/her with new skills which can be used in multiple ways. Continuing education provides employees the opportunity to develop skills, build knowledge, and innovate which leads to improved productivity. One area of improvement is strategic communications. With ever-changing technology and business practices, professionals need to be at the top of their games.
What would a good writing/communications training provide? Intrapreneurs may have great ideas, but many may have a difficult time managing and delivering their ideas appropriately. For instance, intrapreneurs may not have the proper tools to navigate office politics. They may stumble delivering a compelling presentation or writing a succinct memo. Consider helping your intrapreneurs develop solid writing/communication skills to articulate their outstanding ideas with confidence and authority. They will learn how to prioritize ideas, engage colleagues, and take risks.
So if you are lucky enough to be the employer of even one intraprenuer, provide the opportunity for growth and development. Your intrapreneur will thank you not only in words but through inspired productivity, efficiency, and profit.
Yes, business writing is a thing. It is everything from your résumé to emails to lengthy reports. It requires attention to detail, organization and loads of self-editing. It could also mean the difference between getting that dream job or having your résumé tossed in the can.
The College Board data shows that 50 percent of employers take writing into consideration when hiring professional staff and 80 percent of corporations with employment growth potential assess writing during hiring. Moreover, a growing number of employers realize that writing skills are critical to their own success and consider them when hiring and promoting.
Unfortunately, not all of us hold MBAs, yet we find ourselves wanting or holding jobs where we are expected to output high levels of communication - much higher than we were trained for. Additionally employers can’t afford writing mistakes that might cost them future business.
The good news is that even if you feel you don’t have high competency in writing there are tips, tricks, and techniques that can greatly improve your effectiveness.
Know your audience: Let’s say you want to pitch a new client with an engaging letter. Do your research. Think about what the client needs and how you can deliver a beneficial product or solution. Add details that clearly express you know the facts about their current goals or challenges. Is there a new CFO? Are they operating from profit or loss? Always take the time to address correspondences using specific names, and spell them correctly.
Prioritize your ideas: Decide what your reader needs to know and how to put those ideas together in a way that demonstrates forward thinking. If you need to create an Executive update, for instance, make certain the facts you present are logically ordered based on your desired outcome. You can organize via a chronological approach, or timeline; or you can choose to list ideas in order of importance. Finally, a summary or action plan will direct your reader with clarity and precision.
Establish tone: Whether writing a memo, letter, report, or any type of business document, tone is present in all communication activities. It reflects you as a writer and affects how the recipient receives the communication. Advice by Bryan A. Garner’s HBR Guide to Better Business Writing reminds us to avoid hyper-formality. Also, resist the urge to be sarcastic, even if it is tempting. Sarcasm irritates audiences. Lastly, sound like yourself, but use appropriate diction and cordial language.
Be concise: Your readers are busy. Make sure you speak accurately and make your points in a way that says you respect their time. Use “you,” over “I,” and make it abundantly clear why the reader should care. Business writing should always be action oriented.
Use your words: Do not let bold fonts, extreme capitalization, or other design gimmicks do the work. While there is a place for style, it should complement the writing not stand for it. Additionally, choose your words thoughtfully and let those powerful choices open the door to improved communication.
Proofread: Spellcheck should be used, but it is not foolproof. Make sure you are using the correct words in the right way. This can be tricky especially when we are using words that are easily confused - like “affect” and “effect” or “compliment” and “complement.” There are many writing guides. Use them.
Read it aloud: Finally, a great way to isolate and remove typographical errors is to read your draft aloud. Read off the screen or print out a copy and read it to a colleague. Even try reading it backwards!
Using these tips, tricks, and techniques will help you on the road to improved communications and greater success with your career or business.
Now doesn’t that make good sense?