The savviest of our corporate clients recognize the importance of daily business communications—and the power of a close author/editor collaboration in making them successful.
Today a busy executive does as much communicating in a day through short, bursty texts, email, and mobile media as her predecessors may have done in a week through all their face-to-face and telephone meetings. An observer of a typical corporate floor in mid-town Manhattan would find a working environment almost eery in its silence. Young professionals in partial cubicles reminiscent of slip stalls work shoulder to shoulder, hunched over laptops, saying little or nothing. A pulse of white noise in the background muffles the few voices that can be heard. Those on the phone are largely silent…mostly tending to lengthy conference calls piped through an ear bud while the participant multi-tasks on other projects or text-chats with others on the call. More senior people work behind closed doors, but even they keep eyes focused on screens, breaking only for an absolute necessity, such as a coaching session. Telephones ring so rarely the sound is almost startling, and millennials make appointments prior to a phone call.
This is the ambient work environment of the 21st Century teen years, and it requires an ability to write that many are unprepared for.
Communicating effectively and with sensitivity to the audience has everything to do with success in a professional environment. Politics in and outside the workplace are as critical as they ever were. But the uncanny ability humans display in comprehending muddled speech patterns doesn’t translate to the written word. That’s where the danger lays in the modern workplace. Daily writing is fraught with potential for making enemies, throwing a project off track, and discouraging customers or talent you desperately want to keep.
In our work, we have examined over 300 written transcripts of meetings, telephone calls, and interviews, seeking to understand exactly how people communicate. Even allowing for transcriber error, much of the recorded conversations proved to be fragmented, disconnected, and in some cases almost bizarre when transcribed word for word. Yet in nearly every case, the participants listened avidly, agreed or disagreed based on the salient points they heard—or at least thought they heard—and generally carried on with the meeting, often with enthusiasm. Because of the close human interaction in which these forms of speech occurred, the audience forgave tremendous gaps in logic, circular arguments, unfinished thoughts, poor grammar, and jumps in subject matter. Had the same thing occurred in written form, these communications would not have met with the same success.
Written communications need help to survive the closer scrutiny they will receive over their spoken counterparts. And in truth, all writing improves with a second set of eyes, a cold read, and an editor’s touch. Executives and other professionals concerned about working effectively, maintaining their personal brands, and smoothing the path for others would do well to consider having an editor on their team who can collaborate closely with them—even on the most mundane exchanges.
©2013 STORIA Marci Montgomery