Leaders must communicate well. While it is well known that verbal communication is important for leadership, you should not underestimate how just as important your written communication is.
Whether it’s a business e-mail you’re quickly sending to a colleague, or a proposal to an important client, it’s imperative for your business writing to be structured, succinct and compelling.
Highly achieved lawyers, bankers, doctors, consultants and entrepreneurs often spend time improving and advancing their business writing skill. Be it through training that’s provided by their organisation, or through their own initiative.
Avoiding common business writing errors, such as the ones I outline below, can save you from embarrassing moments, cultural misunderstanding and loss of credibility in your e-mails and business documents.
Let’s look at 4 business writing mistakes leaders should avoid.
1. Neglecting Global E-mail Etiquette
English speakers generally want to get straight to the point in e-mails, even if it means omitting a suitable opening or closing line.
However, people from other cultures, such as China or Japan, like to spend time nurturing the relationship and might open an e-mail with a short paragraph about the weather or a recent news story.
This cultural difference is one aspect of global e-mail etiquette and can either aid the formation of a business relationship, or break it.
If you’re from the US or Germany, and you’re trying to connect and establish a relationship with a potential client in China, it might be in your best interests to spend time properly addressing your recipient, asking about their family in your opening paragraph, and using a formal closing sentence.
On the other hand, if you’re from China or Japan, and you’re communicating with somebody in the US, you might want to get to the point straight away in your e-mail.
Nowadays, a large part of our professional image is created by the e-mails we send. Make sure your professional image transcends cultural barriers and meets the expectations or cultural norm of your reader.
2. Mixing US and British Style English
Many people realise there are spelling differences when it comes to US and British style English.
In the introduction to this article, I used one common spelling difference, “organisation” instead of “organization”. However, what most don’t realise (or “realize”) is there are also many grammatical and punctuation differences that you should be familiar with.
In US style English, it’s common to place a full stop (period) after Mr or Ms when addressing somebody in a letter or an e-mail. However, in British style English, a full stop is not required.
For example, using US style English you would write, “Dear Mr. Hammond:”, when opening an e-mail or letter. Using British style English, you would write, “Dear Mr Hammond,”. Do you see the difference?
Another punctuation difference is the serial comma, which is the extra comma often placed before “and/or” when you’re listing a series of options in a sentence. US style English often uses this comma, but British style English does not.
For example, in US style English, you would write, “I’m available for a meeting on Monday, Tuesday, or Friday”. In British style English, you would write, “I’m available for a meeting on Monday, Tuesday or Friday”. Do you see the difference?
Although, these differences may seem trivial to you, for your reader, they could be significant. You never know if that person could be an English language guru.
Mixing US and British style English in the same document can make you look inconsistent, and your reader might question your competence as a professional. In any case, these mistakes have the potential to damage your professional image.
3. Not Using Vocabulary that Establishes Credibility
Establishing credibility is an important element for any leader to build in both your spoken and written work. Credibility is a way for leaders to prove they’re capable and competent in the eyes of their employees, colleagues and clients.
In an article that featured in the Harvard Business Review, “Three Elements of Great Communication, According to Aristotle”, Scott Edinger describes credibility as “ethos”, essentially, “the reason people should believe what you’re saying”.
One effective way to establish your credibility or “ethos” in your business writing is to use vocabulary that shows your technical expertise and knowledge. How do you learn this vocabulary?
Read industry related articles, journal articles or sign up to a newsletter that is focused on your industry niche. Watch documentaries or listen to podcasts that are related to your area of expertise.
With a quick search on iTunes, you will find many podcasts that are focused on niche topics, such as real estate, marketing, finance, book publishing, entrepreneurship and more.
If you would like to listen to one of my recent podcast interviews on running a business, I invite you to visit Onward Nation here.
4. Not Supporting Your Statement with a Rationale
When you’re trying to communicate your ideas and opinions, you should always try to support that statement with a rationale.
Let me share with you a situation. You’re exchanging e-mails with your team, and as a group, you’re trying to decide whether Project A or Project B is the better choice. Instead of simply writing, “I believe we should go with Project A”, you should backup your choice with “why” you think Project A is the better choice.
Use a sentence such as “I strongly believe Project A is the better choice because the building site is closer to public transport and the construction company in charge of building the hotel has more experience”.
Do you see the impact one word, “because”, has on your argument?
In a study performed by Harvard social psychologist, Ellen Langer, she found the word “because” triggers an automatic compliance response.
In this study, when Ms. Langer asked people waiting in line at the Xerox machine, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”, 60 percent of those people asked complied with her request. Then she used a different strategy and she asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”, adding no new information, only the word, “because”. In this circumstance, 93 percent of those asked complied with her request.
Providing a rationale to support your argument, idea, or statement will give your reader less reason to object (because it makes you sound smarter!).
If you would like to learn how to write executive style e-mails and letters to elevate your professional image, please ask me about my e-mail course and workbook, “The Art of Executive Writing: E-mails and Letters”.
Did you find these tips useful for your professional life? Sign up to the Executive Impressions monthly newsletter to get more tips sent directly to your e-mail inbox.