This week, Communications has been front and center for my attention.
In truth, it’s never really far from my mind.
Because, in order for me to be an effective colleague and coworker, I have to be able to intrinsically understand what is being communicated to me, as well as communicating to others in a way that they understand what I am conveying; and, more importantly, that I achieve the results intended by my method of communication.
One means I use in my written communication, to set tone and atmosphere, is the concept of voice. You might think of it as personality.
Whether we all realize it or not, the way we write always carries the DNA of our thoughts along with us when we send out our words into the ether. Many of you can read a few words into an email and immediately recognize – through idiom, habit, or pattern – who the author is, without looking at the “from” line. This is because you are detecting the unseen hand – and the voice – of the writer. It’s why some people can never submit anything anonymously, because by their quirks and turns of phrase, you will know them.
How can voice be used to achieve positive effect?
First, think of your writing voice as the same thing as your spoken word. Imagine yourself, not at a remove from the person to whom you are speaking, but that they are right there before you. Say only the things you would say to them if they were there before you (no – strike that. Say only the things you should say if they were there before you).
Think of how your audience will react to whatever it is you are about to “say.” Will it put them on the defensive? Will it be hurtful? Will they react positively to your message? Understanding the emotional state your messaging will place the receiver in, by your tone and by your voice, is equally important to achieving whatever objective you’re trying to accomplish through your messaging, as the content of the message itself. In order for seeds to take root, you have to make sure that you’re sowing into fertile ground.
Through judicious use of voice, you can communicate even unpleasant truths, with greater impact – that is, if we use reasoned and dispassionate communications as our default mode, and impassioned language only as warranted. If everything is presented as a crisis (and I know – some weeks, it seems that they are), we are in danger of losing impact in getting our message across. Our audience learns to filter us out. Or worse: ignore us.
As you are reflecting upon your written voice, consider the image you wish to protect. Is it thoughtful? Respectful? Professional? Or is it annoyed? Angry? Resentful? Trust me: we all need editors. Try and use intentional reflection over how your written voice will come across, as your own personal editor. It won’t save you from all situations. But it will, most of the time. When it doubt, it never hurts to wait a few moments, hours – or days – to send out that flaming email you composed in a fit. Remember: you really can’t unsay anything.
Look – not every text or email is going to be a literary masterpiece. We don’t live and work in a vacuum, devoid of emotion, stress, or pressure.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be intentional about the voice we choose to project, and to become the people we strive to be, represented by that voice – even if we are all still very much works in process.