Written Business Communication Skills

105 billion emails are sent each day, and this number is exponentially growing. Just let that number sink in for a moment. Your job as a business professional is to make sure your written communication cuts through all the noise and delivers your message. It’s crucial that it stands out and delivers value while being direct and engaging, with a clear call for further action. 

We all get sender’s remorse – that millisecond after clicking send in which you think “oh no, I could have said that better”. A well written piece of business communication can land you a huge sale or a new client, and do wonders for the reputation of your business. Conversely- sloppy, unclear or unprofessional writing will bring potential new business to a halt. 

When was the last time you thought about your written business communication skills? It is probably not at the top of your self-improvement to-do list, but it definitely wants to be. At ABA, we believe that great writing is not something you are born with, but rather a muscle that you can train for peak performance. 

There are tricks and subtle adjustments that will make you more aware of how you communicate, and thus vastly improve the effectiveness of it. Imagine if every communication with stakeholders, clients, managers or employees was 20% more effective. This cannot fail to translate into better results and relationships.

Knowing how to elicit the response you want is a super power. Effective written communication will not only boost your sales and profit margin, but will also have a positive knock on effect on your thinking process in general. In the words of Bill Wheeler- “Good writing is clear thinking made visible”. To that end, here are a few things to consider when writing.

First Think, Then Write

Most people are creatures of habit, and repeat learned behaviour without really evaluating if it was effective in the first place. We all too often resort to using muscle memory when writing, and in this process overlook two key questions:

  • What outcomes or responses am I aiming for?
  • Who is my audience?

If you have difficulty answering these two questions your written communication stands little chance of being effective. A very common mistake is to start writing prematurely, thinking that we can work out our thoughts along the way. Unless you are a writing prodigy- it just won’t work that way. Jumping into writing with no forethought leads to content that is poorly structured, repetitive and cumbersome to digest. 

Get to the Point

No one likes reading unnecessary fluff, and this goes double for business communication. Get to the point as quickly and directly as you can. If you start off with “hope you are doing well” or “how was your weekend?”, you are very likely to lose your reader’s attention. Direct, however, does not mean brash- speak to others like you would like to be spoken to. Trim the fat, but not the please and thank you-s. 

Use bullet points, subheadings and include a summary of actions at the end. It is a good way to compress your message and make the key takeaway points visible. Most people skim more than they read, keep this in mind when formatting your writing. 

Make It Easy on the Eye 

The trick to having your email read instead of scanned, is to make it seem easy. The human brain is geared to protect us from harm. We try to avoid doing anything stressful or difficult. Text heavy, cumbersome text is hard on the eye and difficult to digest. The human eye is quite limited in its visual acuity– we can only reliably perceive what we look at directly. So, the center of our visual field is highly accurate, but everything around it is blurred.

Short clear sentences are easier to follow. The same applies to paragraph length. Take for example this post you are reading right now. Paragraphs are kept as short as possible so that the content is easier to digest, and ideas are grouped into clear and separate sections. Your written communication is only as valuable as people’s willingness to read it. Avoid quirky fonts and colours, no matter how fond you might be of them.

Walk a Mile in Your Reader’s Shoes

Not all of us read in the same way, it is as unique to each of us as the way we speak or walk. Take the time to understand your audience. Why are they reading it, what’s in it for them? What action would you like them to take? How much do they know about the topic? Your reader is to be first and foremost in your mind when you are writing.  

Effective writing is closely linked to emotional intelligence (EQ), a skill that is rarely discussed but extremely powerful. Think about the recipient before you write anything. Consider the following:

  • How will they best absorb information?
  • What action do you want them to take?
  • What type of language is most comfortable for them? 
  • What are their objectives?
  • What are their resistances?
  • What is the preferred tone?

With this in mind, how much more effective could your sales pitch, instruction or motivating email be?

Actively seek out areas of potential reader misunderstandings. Check to see if your sentences could be interpreted in ways other than you intended. Even if you use some acronyms or industry specific buzzwords regularly, this does not mean your reader is familiar with them. Assume nothing and spell everything out as clearly as possible. 

Revision, Revision, Revision

It’s extremely rare that someone produces exceptional work on the first go. Writing is an iterative process, and it helps to keep in mind that a first draft is just that- your first shot at it. Approaching any writing with this mindset will make the blank page less intimidating. It’s OK if your first draft falls short of perfection. This is where rigorous editing really saves the day.

A great strategy for improving your writing is to read it out loud. If it is awkward or challenging to read out loud, this is a sure sign that more editing is required. Sometimes stepping away from your writing and coming back to it with fresh eyes can bring into focus new areas for improvement.  

The revision process is an ideal time to assess if your written communication comes across as emotionally charged. Business communication, as a rule, wants to be fact based and pragmatic. Bringing too much emotion to the table can create barriers to understanding and can lead to unnecessary friction. The key to effective written communication is to hit the sweet spot between being empathetic and direct. 

Don’t Let Writing Tools Do Your Writing for You

There are a lot of great tools that can help you with your writing. From simple spell checking to tools that gauge the tone of your writing and make suggestions to improve sentence structure. These tools might be valuable, but they are definitely not perfect. It is easy to become complacent and lean on them too much. 

Grammarly is great at structure and grammar, but it doesn’t understand the nuance of how people think, what their experiences are etc. For example, when negotiating with suppliers, we will always discuss the non-tangibles we can provide, knowing they are self-interested in promotion and credibility. So by offering to do case studies, give amazing quotes etc, we can peak their interest in providing a deal or special collaboration.

Writing aid tools do not catch all errors, or provide real substance, they’re only meant to give your writing a final polish. Word of caution: over-reliance on corrective writing software can make you sound like a robot.

Close Appropriately

Countless businesspeople do all the hard work, and then fail to pull the trigger. They waste countless hours of effort, without clearly articulating what they want in response. The way you close your written communication is just as important as what’s in it. You send out written communication with a clear goal- make sure the recipient is aware of this as well. 

  • In sales – Ask for the business
  • In management – Clearly set up KPIs and explain next steps and expectations
  • In managing relationships –  make sure your partner/friends understand what you are really suggesting and why

Closing with “No reply necessary” and “Looking forward to any questions you might have” sends very clear instructions to the reader on what actions to take. If you are sending out commercial emails, make sure that your call to action is highly visible and understandable. 

These have been just a few skills that can help you start writing like a pro. If you want to improve your overall business communication be sure to get in touch with ABA for a free 1 on 1 business coaching consultation. We will set up a meeting to discuss your current situation, your goals, and how we can help you get there through mastering effective business communication.   

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