OK, I need to take you on a little bit of a journey to explain what I mean here, so bear with me.
I have a background as an educator. I trained as a high school English teacher. I started teaching at universities at 21 years old. I worked in indigenous tertiary education for 7 years.
I now train adults for a living.
Trainer. Teacher. Educator. Facilitator.
In the education sector we have strong feelings about all these words.
In the school of education, we frown on the word ‘train’ because there’s a history of seeing teaching as a vocation rather than a profession.
In indigenous education we prefer the word ‘facilitate’ because it rejects the ‘empty vessel’ pedagogy that has such close links with colonisation.
When teaching adults, we are less likely to use the word ‘teach’ for similar reasons – working with adults requires a more co-constructive, facilitative approach than a teacher-student model.
I make good money as a corporate trainer because that is what companies are looking for. When adult participants come into a room with me they want me to teach them things. They are looking to me to have the expertise I can pass on to them.
But here’s the curveball: in a lot of ways, what I’m delivering to people when I train, teach, educate, or facilitate, is CONNECTION.
I teach people how to connect with other humans, because that is the foundation for all the other things we want to achieve.
Want to write better documents (Business Writing)? Connect with your readers.
Want to teach people better in the workplace (Train the Trainer)? Connect with your trainee.
Want to work better with other cultures (Cultural Competency)? Build a connection with those people.
You won’t hear me distil it like that in a training room.
So what does this have to do with marketing? And writing?
When we name a product or service, it’s natural to come at it from our own position:
- What do I call this thing?
- What is it, from my professional perspective, that I’m providing?
- What words are acceptable in my industry?
- What words will my peers see value and credibility in?
But that’s a mistake.
We also name our products and services based on the outcomes we know they’ll provide to people.
That’s also a mistake.
Because, ask any trainer or consultant and they’ll tell you:
What these people need is X, but they think they need Y.
If I try to sell them X, they’re not interested.
But if I sell them Y, they’ll buy it, and that gets me in the door so that I can give them X.
If I only deliver Y they won’t be anywhere near as satisfied as if I give them X.
In a nutshell?
Ask yourself what your market is looking for.
What do they think they need?
And then label your product or service as that.
How not to argue
If you’re in an energetic discussion with someone, what’s a sure-fire way to get them to dig their heels in?
Flat-out tell them they’re wrong. Point out all the faults in their logic. Deny their point of view.
The more you do that, the greater the barrier between you. You’re building a wall (aye, Donald).
How to argue with a chance of winning
But if you want any chance of getting them to hear you, getting them to consider there’s a different way to look at the issue, if you want to be heard, they need to feel heard first.
To influence, persuade, and get buy-in to your ideas, you have to remove the barriers between you. You have to create connection, clear some common ground, so that then the foundations of your reasoning can be built together, one block at a time.
But Shelly, how do you know?
I’m a writing trainer. You’d think I spend most of my time training people in the skills of good writing. But really, I spend most of my time winning people over.
I teach plain language. And plain language is the polar opposite of most of the ‘rules’ of good writing you learned at university. It goes against all the things you learned about using higher-level, more complex language to sound more intelligent, against the written voice you’ve always believed is what will give you credibility at work.
The people I train have had those ideas reinforced (and been rewarded for them) for years – often decades. The only way I can get them onside is to make sure they feel heard, validated, affirmed in their position, and then gently persuaded to consider a different view. And to sit with that different view. To play with it. To experience it. And to decide for themselves.
I’m a professional mind-changer.
The principles are the same when writing
So, to be persuasive in your writing, you need to do those same things.
1. Acknowledge the reader’s position
Like in all good business writing, start with your bottom line up front. Tell them where the destination is before you start the journey. That’s always a thing. And then, address their concerns. In NLP it’s sometimes called objection inoculators. Don’t leave objections simmering away in the background. Address them straight up. Acknowledge them as real and valid.
2. Validate their concerns
There’s a careful balancing act here of acknowledging validity, showing you understand the thinking and can see that it’s a reasonable position, without adding fuel to the fire.
Try using phrases like:
- It’s a common and understandable position…
- We’ve previously believed…
- Understandably, we have fears around…
3. Know their points of leverage
Here’s where intimate insight into your reader’s way of thinking becomes vital. If you know your reader is swayed by financial benefits, address those – and do it hard. If you know they’re particularly concerned with efficiency, processes, streamlining, show them benefits related to those. If long-term strategy is their thing, focus there. Maybe it’s quality. Maybe it’s ego. Know your reader, and use what will sway them.
4. Emotion always plays a part
Again, it’s a careful balance. Most influencers in the workplace will respond negatively to writing that is overly emotive – we’re so used to being sold to through informercials and hard sales pitches. So don’t do that. But the occasional subtle and well-placed emotive word for impact will work. While we don’t want to overuse emotion, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that there’s no place for emotions in business. That’s simply not true – humans run businesses. Humans are emotional. The end.
5. Everything else is an extra set of steak knives
After all that, hit them with all the bonuses. All the added extras!
Once you’ve addressed their concerns and leveraged their wants and drivers, show them all the benefits they never even considered.
Make it too good to say no to. Just too valuable, too beneficial.
Overpower their arguments – not by fighting against, but by winning over.
Ready to go?
Practice this in conversation. Then plan out a well-sculpted argument and write the damn thing.
You’ll never know whether you can win someone over if you don’t try.
What are you putting energy into resisting?
What might happen if you just roll with it?
I’m what you might call ‘highly strung’ (uggh).
Me, earlier in life was a basket-case. Control-freak, stressed out, ready to blow up over stupid shit on a regular basis.
I really struggled to get through each day and eventually had some real challenges with depression.
Then my husband died.
If you ever need something to help you reconsider what’s important in life, death will do it.
Of course, the grief and growth since his death has been a long and winding 20-year journey. But ultimately what has happened is this: I’ve learned to roll with things.
I’ve learned that if I want to cope with life, I have to release my death-grip on the reigns.
I have to roll with shit.
I have the most beautiful partner today.
While my carver boy gets a good deal of credit for that, cos he’s a good, good man, I also give myself credit for a bunch of things, and learning to roll with stuff is one of those things.
It means I don’t try to manage him or control how our life together works.
It means I’m accepting of the twists and turns.
It means I got more patient (and faaaaark, has that been a ride!).
Most people today consider me fairly chilled (although high-energy).
They’re surprised when I say how much of a stressed-out control freak I used to be.
So here’s the thing. Or the things.
There are some things we shouldn’t let go of – some things we do want to manage and influence.
Like the fact that my family needs to eat. I’m not going to just roll with them going hungry.
Or the fact that we need to be safe while we drive. I’m not going to just roll with breaking the law or risking our lives.
But the timing of that trip in the car? I can roll with when that happens. Who comes in the car and what they wear or what they bring with them? I can roll with that.
What we eat and when? I can roll with that. We can’t all sit down to a meal of meat and 3 veg at 6pm? I can roll with that. Someone wants to eat weetbix instead? Go for your life.
Trying to manage and control things is EXHAUSTING.
And it means that you’re setting yourself up for stress, disappointment, upset, and maybe anger and rage, if things don’t go the way you tried to make them go.
The odds of things not going to plan are HUGE.
So I wonder what you’re resisting right now?
What’s taking up your energy? What are you giving power to because you’re laser-focused on it happening a certain way?
Choose one small thing.
Now, what might it look like if you just rolled with it? What’s the worst that could happen? What might you gain? How much happier might you become? How much lighter might you feel?
Roll with it.
Let those swells bring you safely and gently onto a shore where the sun is shining and you can get some rest.
Dear document reviewers,
It’s not about you.
It’s about whether the document is fit for purpose (and fit for its readers).
In my estimation, about 70% of all feedback from reviewers of documents in the workplace is not based on correctness or making a document fit for purpose. It’s editing or rewriting or suggestions for change based on I’d say it differently.
Do you have any idea how unhelpful that is?
- It’s demotivating for writers because they can never be mind-readers – they can’t actually emulate your voice.
- It’s an incredible waste of time. The writers spend time writing, the reviewers spend time reviewing, the writers spend time changing.
All because the reviewer has a preferred way of expressing an idea.
Not because it’s correcting an error. Not because it improves the document. Not because it’s better for readers.
One of my dreams for the universe is that all people tasked with reviewing documents in the workplace would be trained in the art and skill of doing so.
Even if the main thing they learned was the ability to use one filter question as they reviewed, the world would be a happier place.
Does this NEED to be improved,
or do I just want to change it to the way I would write it?
I’m not suggesting that we’re egomaniacs. One part of human nature means that when someone asks for our eyes over a document, we have to make some suggestions to show we put some effort in, or that we have something of value to contribute. There’s another part of human nature that means we’re predisposed to think there’s one right way, and also predisposed to think that our way is right.
I actually believe it takes a high level of EQ and a decent amount of self-discipline to apply this filter while reviewing a document.
And I am ever the optimist.
Dear document reviewers,
Why don’t you save us all some time?
Back the truck up. And let your writers have their own voice.
#SorryNotSorry but there’s no such thing as how to write a report.
Like there is one kind of report and there’s one right way to write one.
Meeehhh! Wrong. But thanks for playing.
There are endless kinds of reports
- status reports
- research reports
- analysis reports
- financial reports (hundreds of kinds)
- investigation reports
- incident reports
- audit reports
See what I mean? You’re not asking the right question.
How to write a report isn’t the right question.
You need to be asking how to write THIS report.
Every single report needs to be written in a way that’s fit for its own purpose. So there’s a set of questions to ask so you can build a report that will achieve what it needs to.
- How’s this report going to be used?
- Who’s going to use it?
- Therefore, what sections does the report need?
- And lastly, what level of detail do those people need in each of those sections, so they can use the report for their purposes?
Now you’re on the right track
If you can answer those questions, you have a plan. Once you have a plan, you can write the pieces that are easiest first, and work your way from there. Lots of reports should have an executive summary (pretty much any report that’s 2 pages or longer needs one), and you can write that last.
They can be big beasties, but they are certainly manageable. And there’s definitely NOT one right way to write a report. Please stop asking!