An organization leader I’m working with asked for recommendations on how to maximize the effectiveness of her written communication. Do you have any suggestions?
Yes, I do! There’s one fundamental “do” and one fundamental “don’t.” I’ll start with the don’t.
Have you ever misinterpreted a text or an email? Well, you’re not alone. According to intriguing research by Nicholas Epley at the University of Chicago, this happens more often than we might think. His studies reveal an interesting disconnect in our written communications.
He’s found that when we receive a written communication on something substantive, we assume we know fully well the message as intended by the sender. The sender also assumes that the recipient fully knows and understands the message’s intent. And yet, Epley’s research shows the odds are about 50-50 of a miscommunication, which typically means a relationship disconnect, especially when you add research findings showing that we tend to construe a written message more negatively than an identically worded spoken message.
To add to the complexity, his findings also show that we tend to perceive written messages as more negative than spoken ones, even if the words used are identical! This means that if your message has any potential to be sensitive, significant, complex, or emotionally charged, sending it in written form — whether it’s a text, email, memo, or even an ancient stone tablet — may not be the best idea.
Why? Because there’s a good chance that your well-intentioned message will be taken the wrong way, leaving you scrambling to fix the misunderstanding or deal with the fallouts in your relationship. So, the next time you’re tempted to send that critical email or text, resist the urge! It might just save you from a whole lot of trouble.
Instead, have or schedule a real-time conversation whether in person, via Zoom, or even the telephone (remember it?), and address the issue that way.
The Same Day Summary
The most effective written communication tool I know is called the “Same Day Summary.” It’s something you write shortly after a real-time exchange. The SDS captures what you think are the most important things that were actually said. It’s not a summary in the sense of comprehension. It’s a strategic summary of what you think needs to be captured and preserved in writing.
You send the SDS to the other person or persons who were in the real-time discussion. You don’t request a reply and you don’t ask for agreement. Instead, you include a sentence like, “Let me know if I missed or misstated anything.” Why? Because that sentence frees you up to be strategic. You write only what you think needs to be captured and preserved. If others think you left something out or didn’t state something accurately, they can respond. The ball is in their court.
The key is to send the SDS as soon as possible. Otherwise, our very fallible memories will mess things up. Also, resist the temptation to add something of substance that wasn’t actually discussed. For the SDS recipient, no surprises!
Deborah, here’s a nugget of wisdom from my years of coaching: the art of the SDS technique is like a dance. It takes time to learn the steps, and even the most accomplished dancers occasionally miss a beat.
In the beginning, it’s natural to stumble. Small missteps can lead to significant impacts, but don’t let that discourage you. Think of these as learning opportunities, stepping stones on your path to mastery.
I’ve seen this journey in everyone I’ve coached, and that’s why I offer a safety net. As you’re finding your footing with the SDS technique, feel free to send me your drafts. Consider me your personal guide on this journey, ready to provide feedback and steer you in the right direction. Usually, after two or three follow-up sessions, my coachees find their rhythm and confidently dance the SDS dance without needing my guidance. Trust me, you’ll get there too!
So, are you ready to take the first step? Let’s start practicing the SDS technique together. Remember, every master was once a beginner. Start your journey toward mastery today!
Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at AsktheCoach@mgscc.net.