|Published Sept. 2015 by St. Martin's Press|
I can vouch for this book’s value because I’ve taught Basic Business Writing and Email Etiquette to Columbia University staff for years. Finding smart, up-to-date resources for those classes is always a challenge. When I read praise for this book by the straight-talking Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I, I was sold: "Lamb can tell you how to deliver that bad-news memo, how to write email like a grown-up, how to take blame without groveling, and how to be grammatically correct without being stiff. She knows!"
Marian Calabro: Why was it time for a new business writing book?
Sandra E. Lamb: The #1 problem employers have today is that their employees are challenged when it comes to effectively communicating. Recent figures suggest that employers spend well over $3 billion a year on efforts to improve their employees' communication skills. And now that business is conducted by email, the problems have been exacerbated.
MC: What’s your #1, “if you only remember one thing” piece of advice for workplace writers (meaning people whose primary job is not as a writer)?
SL: You mean besides buy my book, read it, keep it on your desktop, and use it? The top complaint I get from senior executives is that employees don't determine before starting to communicate by email that it is the proper vehicle for their message. If your message needs negotiation, for example, email is the wrong vehicle.
MC: How about emails – what are your key do’s and don’ts there?
SL: All the rules of good writing apply to email, plus. Using email requires special understanding of what it is and what it is not good for in communicating electronically. Here are a few examples: Don't email if your message contains personal or personnel information; if you need to negotiate; or if your message has elevated emotional content.
One senior vice president, who has teams of employees around the world, complained that too often his employees email as a way of not making a decision, but instead just passing a problem on. He said this defers or prolongs the decision-making process. In his business, he added, it's a huge cost factor because it wastes a lot of employees' time, and impedes progress.
Do email when you want to pass on information. But more importantly, email only after you've employed the best principles of effective communication. That includes starting by thinking your message through and making a few notes, organizing, writing, and editing, editing, editing.
Many executives I interviewed complained about email content--too long, unedited, and disorganized.
MC: What’s your personal pet peeve about business writing?
MC: Mine is snark, which has crept in via the supposed anonymity of the Internet. I was delighted to read your cautionary advice about that: “Before you fire off a flip response or join in the ‘innocent’ sport of ‘poking fun,’ take a few minutes to reflect.”
SL: Absolutely. What you write or post in private can easily come back to bite you in a very public way, like during a job interview, a performance review, or a disciplinary-action meeting.
MC: My readers are often involved in business history or company anniversary campaigns. They may be on a committee or team preparing for, say, the business’s 30-year anniversary. Any special advice for them?
SL: Having a very-well-thought-out-and-written plan before starting is essential in getting the task done most optimally. It can make all the difference in achieving the best execution.
MC: Thanks, Sandra, for taking the time for this Q&A over Labor Day weekend.
Writing Well for Business Success by Sandra E. Lamb
St. Martin's Press, paperback, US $16.99, Canada $19.50