Use It or Lose It

Writing is different than reading.

Once we learn to read, we don’t forget how to read. This is an enduring skill because most days, we read at least a little something. We’re not even aware of reading when we’re reading.

But, when  it comes to writing skills, if we don’t use ’em, we can lose ’em.

As many of us increasingly rely on short-form communications like texts and tweets, we can lose the ability to write clear sentences and logical paragraphs – essential skills in many positions and fields of work.

So be sure to use it if you don’t want to lose it.

Practise writing at work and away from work. At work, request opportunities to write documents such as letters, reports, presentations or articles. Ask for feedback on your writing to help you improve.

Away from work, write what inspires you to want to write: notes, poems, plays, songs,  blogs, books, biographies, recipes. Any kind of writing that you do will improve your skills.

So don’t lose it, use it, and you’ll find that your writing skills will add value to your work and to your life.

Master the Thanks

When it comes to communicating effectively, there’s lots of opportunity for improvement in expressing gratitude.

When was the last time you were thanked during the course of performing your work? “Thanks for doing this project so quickly.” “Thanks for sending me that document I needed.” “Thanks for explaining to me how the process works.” “Thanks for working this weekend to meet the rush deadline.”

It seems to me that we’re getting better at communicating dissatisfaction and worse at communicating appreciation.

Why is expressing thanks important? Because it can enhance goodwill, build relationships and improve performance – all important influences for advancing our careers and businesses.

Let’s admit it, all of us want to be appreciated for our efforts. So let’s spread some gratitude and master the thanks.

It’s easy to do this by getting into the habit of acknowledging the efforts of people who help and support us. Next time you feel grateful, communicate it: in person, via email, on the phone. “Thank you for your hard work.” “I really appreciate your help with this assignment.”

Such a simple gesture – “thank you.” Such powerful effects: more goodwill, recommendations and referrals, better performance, more positive relationships.

Oh, and thanks for reading this….

You’re probably a worse writer than you think you are

When it comes to building a successful career, good writing skills are essential in many fields. Professionals, managers and executives must be able to write clearly, accurately and competently. They must be able to prepare clear, concise emails. Understandable reports. Letters that make a point. Persuasive proposals. Presentations that engage audiences. Therefore, if you want your career to progress, you need to become a good business writer. Here are four articles I wrote that offer ideas, examples and tips to strengthen your writing.

Think you’re a good business writer?
When someone proclaims, “I’m a good writer” and then we receive a report from this person that’s literally indecipherable, it can be like watching an audition for Canada’s Got Talent…

Write to the right people
It’s not about me. It’s about you.

Get to the point
Ever waded through page after page of a business document until your eyes glazed over, but you couldn’t figure out the point of it?

Watch your language
Don’t let sloppy writing, poor grammar or inappropriate tone undermine your message.

The Authentic Apology: How do You Effectively Communicate “We’re Sorry” to Customers?

We’re sorry.

Are you really?

Seems the Canadian Transportation Agency didn’t believe that Air Canada was sufficiently sorry for leaving passengers stranded at airport gates because of overbooking flights. The CTA recently ruled the airline must compensate passengers more than $100 cash or a $200 flight voucher.

An authentic apology delivered effectively to a customer builds trust, satisfaction and strengthens an organization’s reputation.

An insincere or deficient apology does the opposite – sometimes even compelling customers to take drastic action. Apparently Air Canada’s meagre apologies incensed a few too many travellers, who took their complaints to the CTA. This could prove to be an expensive lesson for Air Canada to learn how to sincerely communicate “we’re sorry.”

Other organizations (are you listening, Toronto Hydro?) would be wise to take note. Here’s a refresher on how to deliver a genuine apology.

1. Words

“Credibility requires that an apology be immediate, unforced, sincere and specific in terms of what exactly one did that was wrong and who specifically has been hurt,” says Linda Stamato, a faculty fellow in planning and public policy at Rutgers University, in the Ivey Business Journal.

When we spent a miserable 18-hour period without heat and power in our home this winter, I was impressed when a VP of Toronto Hydro responded to my letter of complaint by immediately launching an investigation regarding the reasons for the lengthy outage. He conducted an internal investigation and sent us a letter summarizing the results. Essentially a series of errors on the part of Hydro employees contributed to the extended duration of the power failure. He also apologized for the inconvenience and frustration the blackout caused. So far so good. Until the second part of the apology….

2. Actions

In order to be meaningful, an apology requires actions to back it up. Companies need to do something suitable to show they want to make things right for the problem they caused for the customer; otherwise, words are hollow. This is where Air Canada got into trouble: being bumped from a flight at the last minute can be incredibly aggravating and problematic. A hundred bucks doesn’t cut it when you have to be at an important meeting or make a key connection.

Same for Toronto Hydro’s apology for our power outage – a blackout that went on for hours and hours because one Hydro employee forgot to investigate our initial call reporting power problems and another gave us an incorrect timing estimate for repairs and failed to request a meter base jumper to provide temporary power. When we asked for a Hydro credit for unnecessarily freezing in our home for 18 hours, being unable to cook, work or sleep and having to replace an entire fridge of spoiled food, we received a terse letter from Hydro’s insurance adjuster offering just $125 – much less than we requested.

To us, $125 seemed fair compensation for say, a broken blender. It didn’t, however, demonstrate to us sincere regret for almost causing us to freeze to death. And so we wrote to CEO Anthony Haines. No reply. Instead, we received a letter from a Hydro lawyer stating, “Toronto Hydro-Electric System Limited is under no liability to you for the matters raised in your letter.”

Here’s where Hydro’s apology fell apart. The organization did not try to make things right. It didn’t deliver an authentic apology, which requires not only appropriate words but also meaningful amends.

How executives handle mistakes has a direct impact on an organization’s reputation. At a time when the CTA is forcing Air Canada to pay more than $100 for a cancelled flight, Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines stands at the front of an organization that claims “we care about our customers” – and then offers $125 for causing a family to endure 18 hours without power, heat or light during a cold winter night.

Most organizations say they care about their customers, but does yours do the right thing to back up this claim when things go wrong? An authentic apology (the right words, the right actions) should be a standard part of every organization’s customer service policy. This is the right way to effectively communicate “we’re sorry” and to earn credibility and respect.

Oh and by the way, we declined Hydro’s $125. We felt it was insulting rather than apologetic.

It Never Hurts to Ask

….in fact asking helps us to become better communicators.

In order to communicate well, we all need to understand. But many of us are reticent to ask questions – especially at work – for fear we’ll be perceived as ignorant.

Au contraire. Asking questions doesn’t demonstrate weakness, it demonstrates strength. No matter what our position – whether CEO or part-time employee – asking questions indicates interest and a desire to learn and to understand. Equally important, it also helps us:
 – solve problems
 – reduce mistakes
 – stimulate creative thinking
 – connect with people.

Encourage sharing and understanding during discussions by using probing, open-ended “what,” “how” and “why” questions.
 – Why do you think that…?
 – Can you explain what you mean by that?
 – What would happen if…?
 – What do you think about….?
 – How did they respond to…?
 – Can you tell me more about….

Listen carefully to the responses, clarify if necessary and then reflect on what you’ve learned. Be open to new insights the answers may convey.

Ready to improve your communication skills? Just ask.

Are you a Knowledge Hoarder?

We all know a few.

In my field, they’re often the people who want to develop communication tools like presentations or articles or newsletters or blogs – but don’t want to include “valuable” information.

They’re missing the point. If you want your organization to be successful then you need to engage the people who are important to your success. And in order to engage these people, you need to be generous.This means you have to be prepared to share ideas, insights, findings and other information that is helpful to them.

Holding onto information because it is too valuable to share “for free” will brand you as a knowledge hoarder rather than a knowledge sharer.

Useless or useful? How do you prefer to be perceived?

What’s in a Byline?

What’s in a byline? Well, if it’s your name in the byline of a published article, it could be visibility, credibility and differentiation for you and your company.

With so much information circulating online and in print, quality content that provides true value to readers is a precious  commodity. While publishers and editors are unimpressed with self-promotional or poorly written contributions, many appreciate receiving insightful, stimulating articles that address issues of interest to their readers.

If you have discerning ideas, distinctive opinions, creative solutions, helpful advice, valuable lessons or original predictions, consider sharing these through contributed (also called bylined) articles. These are published articles that express the thoughts of individuals who have expertise in a particular field or topic. Here is a sample.

Contributing topical, informative articles to publications read by your clients and prospects and others who are important to your success can help you showcase your expertise and raise your profile. If you have the knowledge but lack the interest, ability or time to write, you can always collaborate with a ghostwriter to help you gather your thoughts into compelling articles.

You won’t get an article published if your intent is to promote your products or services. You will get an article published if you provide readers with ideas, information or advice that is truly helpful to them.

So the next time you read an article and your reaction is, “I could have written a better one” – why don’t you?