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Part of the series “Communication That Fosters Positive Change”
As a professional writer, I can attest to the fact that clear and compelling written communication—whether for articles, papers, emails, presentations or other projects—is a learned and honed skill that involves subtle nuances we need to be aware of to get our best messages across. And when we communicate poorly, in a rushed way, or when we lack an understanding of our target audience, the results can be serious for our careers and our reputations.
To learn more about now to increase our efficacy as writers, I was excited to catch up this week with Senka Hadzimuratovic, Head of Communications at Grammarly. Hadzimuratovic is passionate about helping people communicate effectively. Whether at a multinational organization or an early-stage startup, storytelling with tailored messages has been at the forefront of her career.
Grammarly is the leading digital communication assistant leveraging AI-powered suggestions to keep writing clear, concise and effective. Recently named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies,” Grammarly’s technology not only corrects grammar, but checks for tone, bias, hedging language and more. Grammarly has 20 million daily users and the company celebrated its 10th year anniversary this month.
Here’s what Hadzimuratovic shares about how to improve our written communication:
Kathy Caprino: How has modern communication most significantly changed the way we interact with one another?
Hadzimuratovic: Constant communication is a given in today’s world–and much of it is happening online and in writing. Recent data from HootSuite and We Are Social calculates the number of global internet users to be at 4.021 billion, and the average American spends 24 hours a week online. That’s a considerable increase from the 9.4-hour average in 2000.
While the rise of the internet has given us the ability to communicate with more people than ever before, the stakes are high, and so is the opportunity for misunderstanding. We live under a microscope online and are, more often than not, interacting with people we don’t know in real life. With a lot of context missing, there’s more potential to be misunderstood. That’s why it’s so important to be thoughtful when it comes to how we’re communicating and expressing ourselves.
Caprino: What are some common pitfalls to avoid when it comes to communication today, especially written correspondence?
Hadzimuratovic: All communication—no matter if it’s written, verbal, nonverbal— must be clear to be effective. With written correspondence, we have an added challenge: Indicators like vocal inflection or physical body language to give subtext or context clues aren’t there. That’s why it’s all the more essential to infuse clarity and exactness into your writing.
There are several key pitfalls to keep in mind, particularly in writing. Five common ones are:
#1: Using hedging language and filler words
Hedging language encompasses all the small qualifiers that accompany your statements, including words like “just,” “should,” “I feel like,” and “it would be great if.” While you may think of hedging as an effective way of softening your tone, it can ultimately undermine your message by adding uncertainty that signals a lack of confidence. Writing without hedging phrases can feel awkward and abrupt at first, but it gets easier with practice.
#2: Lacking brevity
Also crucial in today’s hectic, always-on world is brevity. When aiming for conciseness, watch out for phrases like, “all things considered,” “at the end of the day,” “broadly speaking,” and “needless to say.” These phrases bog down your writing and contribute to communication overload.
#3: Not capturing the right tone
There’s a difference between being overly formal and too formal. When writing work emails, a delicate balance is often best. Writing a cover letter, however, may require slightly more formality.
#4: Not being inclusive
Use of inclusive language is key when addressing your recipients. Watch out for the use of informal, potentially misgendering phrases like “you guys,” and be sure to use correct pronouns when addressing others.
#5: Lack of attention to detail
Making simple grammatical or spelling errors may seem innocuous, but these mistakes can have rippling effects that undermine your authority.
Caprino: What is “shared context” that you talk about, and why is it so important for the way we communicate today?
Hadzimuratovic: Shared context is a base level of mutual understanding among people. It’s important because I’ve observed that most misunderstanding in communication today stems from a lack of shared context.
When we think globally, we’re communicating with more people at a higher frequency than ever before. Having shared context can dramatically reduce friction in communication because it informs how you write or speak. Examples of shared context include anything from understanding the intricacies of Southern California freeways or the myriad plot lines of Game of Thrones, to having in-depth knowledge of AI and machine learning or the geopolitics of the EU. Knowing that both you and the other party are versed in similar knowledge or experience allows any conversation to start on a strong foundation.
A lot of shared context is founded on shared cultural experiences or even subject matter knowledge, but it’s not necessarily a limiting factor when communicating with strangers or new colleagues.
Caprino: So how can we achieve shared context in the workplace or in our personal lives?
Hadzimuratovic: There are three key ways I recommend to help bridge the gap in shared context and make your communication more effective:
Have a clear goal
It’s important to walk into any conversation—whether in person or not—with the intent to communicate clearly and effectively. Understanding that people communicate differently, begin with a clear goal of what you’d like to say. This will often inform how you say it. Having a clear goal will guide the development of your message, keeping it on track with less room for misinterpretation.
Form your thoughts
According to The Brief Lab’s 2017/2018 Annual Brief Survey Report, the average professional is interrupted 50 times per day and has an 8-second attention span. The secret to being heard? Get to the point—and fast.
While being direct may be the M.O. for most workplace conversations, there may be more nuance needed when talking among friends and family. Either way, it’s helpful to be as crystal clear as possible, right from the beginning. If you’re having trouble crafting your message, try starting with the “why” and not the “what.” Reverse engineering your thoughts—beginning with the desired outcome and working your way back—is an excellent way to form your message. This works especially well when crafting arguments.
Know your audience
Once you have set your goal and formed your thoughts, it’s important to approach your audience with the right intentions. It’s not productive to think about conversations from the mind frame that you will be understood, but rather have a mindset to ensure that your recipient will understand. There will always be potential for snafus when communicating with others, so before addressing someone, think about the various ways you can frame your message. There’s a reason the age-old saying “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” still rings true today.
It’s also important to consider the mode of communication. When approaching a conversation, take a moment to first think about how the individual you’re interacting with likes to communicate. This small but mighty move helps to build empathy and can instill a level of trust in your audience. They’re also more likely to be receptive to your message if you can speak to them through ways they know and are comfortable with.
Caprino: What are some of your favorite or highly recommended resources and services that you use when you write/communicate?
Hadzimuratovic: There are many tools out there to help you become a better communicator—from online courses about effective communication to seminars and books focused on techniques for communicating up and down the corporate ladder.
Coursera, for example, offers a variety of courses on effective communication in the 21st-century workplace and lessons on how to grow your interpersonal communication and presentation skills. Those looking for tried and true style manuals and books on communication should consider picking up a copy of Brief by Joseph McCormack, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, or The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker.
When it comes to technological resources, companies like Grrammarly, where I work, are focused every day on helping people communicate better. Beyond spelling and grammar checking, we’re leveraging AI to provide suggestions on word choice, eliminate bias, and cut out hedging language in our users’ writing.
Whether it’s face-to-face or a professionally written email exchange, if you’re serious about developing a truly engaging and responsive communication style, invest in resources to help you.
Caprino: What are your top three strategies for improving one’s communication via writing, without using outside services or resources?
Hadzimuratovic: I’d suggest these:
Outlining helps ensure your writing is structured and clear. Using an outline will help establish a defined goal for your writing and ensure that every subsequent argument and supporting point map back to it. Each writer will have their preferred method for outlining, but creating a foundational base for what you want to convey will help ensure your message comes through.
Read it out loud
I always recommend reading your work out loud. Reading your writing aloud can help you determine whether it flows smoothly. If it sounds choppy and clipped, add a few longer sentences to break up that steady, monotonous beat. If you find yourself stumbling over parts, you’ve probably uncovered an overly complicated sentence that needs rewriting.
Let your personality shine through
Letting your personality shine through is the best way to develop a writing style. Use the phrases and slang that you would typically use and, when appropriate, throw in a relevant personal anecdote. When in doubt, remember to be yourself.
For more information, visit https://www.grammarly.com/blog.
To become a stronger thought leader and writer, join Kathy Caprino in her Build Your Authentic Leadership private coaching program.
April 25, 2019 at 05:40PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs