All things change

So when did jeans become appropriate business wear?

I was training at Air New Zealand a few years ago and I walked down a corridor behind two senior pilots. They were wearing dress shoes, business shirts, and jeans. And it dawned on me, all things change.

At some point, jeans became appropriate business wear. 

I wonder when that change happened? I wonder what the process was? I wonder how rebellious that first man wearing jeans to work felt, and how much shit he got about it?

All things change - jeans as appropriate businesswear image

I wonder how strongly he just didn’t give a fuck anymore because he realised that his pants didn’t affect his ability to do his job well.

I wonder about this because, #plainlanguage.

Plain language and change

People ask me all the time, when did plain language become acceptable? Appropriate? How come we’re still resistant to it?

Why did we ever even write formally? What will people think if I use plain language?

All things change - Quote - Plain language allows our readers to act with confidence, because they understand the problems, reasons or recommendations presented. - Shelly Davies

I have so many answers to these questions. So many thoughts. Lots of educated opinions, assumptions based on experience, and conclusions supported by research.

But for me the most important thing is to draw the parallel:

Yes, once upon a time, jeans were considered UNPROFESSIONAL.
Yes, once upon a time, a more personal, conversational voice was considered UNPROFESSIONAL.

All things change, my friends.

Plain language is EVERYWHERE

Take a look around you.  

Plain language really is everywhere (as are jeans at work).

It’s in the emails you get from your utilities providers, your insurance company, your airline.

It’s in the terms and conditions you’re signing (if you’re lucky). 

It’s in government communications and forms and systems.

Plain language example from Matamata Piako District Council signage - "Why are you dumping rubbish here?  I'm a jerk?  I don't care about this community?  I think other people should pay to clean up after me.  Don't be a tosser.  Dispose of your rubbish responsibly"

Where it isn’t, necessarily, is in your own business documents and communications.

Why not? 

Because, #jeans

Because there’s a preponderance (*not a plain language term but I just like it, ya know?) of examples of old-fashioned, overly-formal, ineffective documents in most workplaces. 

And because, when things are in writing, we think they’re set in stone. 

And because, that first time you need to write a report, what do you do? You go find one that’s been written before, and you emulate it.

Before your first day at work, you look at what others are wearing to work, and you emulate it. 

All things change - Quote - Remember the 6 most expensive words in business are: "We've always done it that way." - Catherine DeVrye

We don’t stop to ask, is this still the best way to write this? Is this fit for today’s purpose, and context, and readers?

If we did, we’d most likely scrap those old reports and start fresh:

STRONGER

BOLDER

and FIT FOR PURPOSE.

Quote - What do business readers want?  You don't want #corporatewankspeak.  Nor do they.  You don't want long, waffly, unintelligible documents.  Nor do they.  Here's how to #dropthebs

Ditch that business suit

You can follow the status quo and keep wasting everyone’s time and money, or you can be bold and do it right.

You can wear the uncomfortable business suit, or you can be bold and wear the comfortable and yet tidy jeans.

And you can do a fucking good job while wearing them.

All things change – that’s a simple fact.

The question is, are you gonna keep up?

Email or phone?

The very practical part of me is cringing as I write this.

Do we really need to have a discussion about whether it’s better to email or phone? Is this really a question we need to ask?

IT JUST SEEMS SO FREAKING OBVIOUS!

Image of peanuts with a sign that says "This product contains peanuts"

But.

It is a question I get asked often in trainings, so here are a few things to consider.

When to email and when to pick up the phone

Is the person likely to be available right now?

If it’s office hours and they spend a lot of time in the office, there’s a good chance they’ll be available, and a phone call might be the best option. If you have reason to believe they’re out of the office or away from their desk, email might be better.

Or how about this – try to give them a quick call, and if you have no joy, THEN flick them an email. Problem solved. You don’t have to be a mind-reader.

Here is a joke for all the mind readers out there...

Will their answer to your first question determine the rest of the direction of the conversation?

Yes?

Then a phone call is likely to save you huge amounts of time.

Often a 3-minute phone call can replace literally hours of regular to-ing and fro-ing of stilted email conversation.

Be efficient, people!

Meme: "As per my last email..." (If you'd read the fucking email, dickhead...) #decodingcorporatejargon with Shelly Davies

Is there a chance someone might misread/misinterpret/take offence?

Yes?

Then pick up that phone.

This is one of the most important times NOT to use email.

It’s also a situation when you probably need a written record of the conversation, but this can and should probably happen AFTER the verbal conversation. Read more on that below.

Is it a simple question but the response might take a while to explain in writing and that might lead to follow up questions?

Yes?

Then pick up the phone.

You’re much more likely to have a complete conversation in one go rather than dragging it out over hours or days.

Are you a slow writer?

Yes?

Then pick up the phone.

That’s just smart.

You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important. - Abileen Clark "The Help"

Is this person more likely to call you or email you?

Take their lead.

If they regularly call you, you should take that as an indication that it’s their preference, and just call.

If they’re a more regular emailer, they might be more introverted and more comfortable with email. Or they might just think that’s more appropriate – you could call them once and see how it goes.

Get a sense of their comfort level with that approach, or even—hold onto your hats—you could ASK them what their preference is!

GIF-I'm sorry I didn't answer my phone when you called.  I don't use it for that!

How many people need to be part of this discussion?

If it’s more than 1, email is probably better.

Although if it’s 2 or 3 people, and it’s a tricky conversation, you could consider calling each one, then following up with a group email to confirm the outcomes of the conversations.

Do you need a (digital) paper trail?

We often do. But that shouldn’t mean we rule out the possibility of a phone call.

If we need something on record, that might mean there’s some tension or sensitivity around the subject. Which therefore means it’s better navigated verbally, through 2-way conversation that can have instant, responsive interaction – email doesn’t have that ability.

 So pick up the phone. Have the conversation. And then follow up with a clear, relaxed, structured email to create the record.

 (I do have some very important advice around how to write that email so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot. More on that here)

An almost last thought

If you try calling and don’t get through, but you still think a phone call is going to save time, how about shooting through an email that just asks them to give you a quick call? 

Yes, you CAN do that.

What if I get it wrong?

Guys, there just isn’t a right and wrong here.

I think that’s what people are worried about – what if I get it wrong? 

Well, I think that’s called being human. We can only do our best. And mistakes are part of life.

Good emails are about claiming permission to be the good human you are - just in writing.  - Shelly Davies

Pause, think through some of the considerations above, and then do the damn thing whichever way feels best. You’ve got shit to do.

__________________________________________________

Looking for solutions to your business writing pain?

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In a Modern Workplace Woes VT Virtual Session last week, Visible Thread CEO Evelyn Wolf and I got real about “Email Communication

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Emails – The Conversation Follow Up

I think most of us are smart people. We know that lots of things are best done in person or over the phone rather than through an email conversation.

Things like getting something sorted when there’s confusion or tension or differing opinions or an issue to resolve, for example.

BUT, we also usually want a record of that discussion, so we do the “conversation follow up email.”

And that’s where we fuck things up.

Little toddler fixing the broken under-sink plumbing "Everyone calm down.  I got this"

Where do we go wrong?

You see, in conversation, we soften.

We use our natural, conversational voices, and we more naturally choose words that don’t inflame.

BUT. Sit down to write that email, turn on your writer switch and with it a level of formality you probably feel the conversation requires, and all of a sudden you’re doing damage to a situation you had just successfully resolved in person.

Let’s play this through

You’re a manager.

Your team is having some challenges with the way another team is providing information to them. You call the other manager. You know there’s a chance they’ll get defensive, and so you have a careful conversation, and voila – issues addressed, decisions made – resolved.

Now, the conversation follow up email, with your boss (who’s also Karen’s boss) cc’d.

There’s nothing inherently WRONG with that email. The words are not, on the surface, offensive words, But without the ease and reassurance of a conversational voice, it could absolutely cause you problems.

It could:

  • Revive the tension that had dissipated during the phone call or conversation
  • Undermine the way you navigated the tension in the conversation
  • Lead Karen to think your record of events puts her team in a bad light, and have her feel she needs to correct the record or save face somehow.
Meme - "I've copied..." Let's see you lie your way out of this, asshole - I have evidence.  ShellyDavies.com

HOW could it do those things?

Quite simply, since the conversation was naturally more careful, more diplomatic, the more formal tone of the email could be read as harsh or clinical or condescending or robotic.

FEEL, in this next example, how a conversational voice supports the good outcome of your personal conversation.

Better, right? 

Human is always better. Personal is better than cold.

Our old idea of the “professional voice” is NO LONGER USEFUL to us. It causes problems.

How to write this email

The formula for accomplishing this is simple.

1. Make sure every word is a word you would say face to face or in a phone conversation. If you’d say hi, write hi, not hello. If you’d say thanks, write thanks, not kind regards.

2. Have a line before you get into the guts of the email that is a human acknowledgement of that conversation. Thanks for your time on the phone. Great to talk to you. Thanks for helping me get that sorted. Thanks for making some decisions about X.

3. Now use headings for the chunks of info you need recorded. Some headings could be:

  • What we discussed
  • What we decided
  • I’m going to
  • You’re going to
  • We still need to know

4. Under those headings, just use a simple bullet point for each point. Try not to expand or narrate too much. Just clear and stripped back as much as possible. The more words you use, the easier it can be for misinterpretation to happen.

5. Now insert a line at the end that allows the other person to safely come back with a correction or addition without being argumentative: If I missed anything or got something wrong, just let me know!

6. Wrap it up warmly with a thanks or a talk soon or a have a great day, and BOOM.

Mission accomplished!

That’s it from your friendly #RockstarWriter today.

Go, write great emails!

____________________________________________________

Psst!  If you’re really looking to end the email torture forever, I can help!

What if I told you that there is actually a simple, incredibly fast formula to writing an email, and it’s actually proven to get faster replies, increased buy-in and approvals, and make you look incredibly professional, confident, and efficient?

Well, there is. And it uses: – neuroscience to influence how the reader processes your message, and psychology to leverage on how we know readers behave at work. You could sit down right now for ONE HOUR and learn how to use it and never look back!

  • Less-chasing
  • Fewer games of email tennis
  • Significant amounts of time saved
  • Significant increases in productively

My online Write Better Emails course will change your life, today!

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What do business readers want?

OK, so you’re not a mind-reader. But to write well in a business context, you do have to have some insight into what your readers want.

Here’s the good news

The good news is, you DO have a very good general idea of what business readers want, so that’s a strong start.

Why?

Because you ARE a business reader. And that’s the trick to successful documents and emails at work.

Don’t assume!

Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups

DON’T assume the people you’re writing to want different things.

Don’t assume the rules are different.

Don’t assume, just because they’re higher up the food chain (for example), that for some reason the rules are just magically different for them.

You don’t want #corporatewankspeak. Nor do they.

You don’t want, long, waffly, unintelligible documents. Nor do they.

So here are 4 things you can really safely assume about your readers within a business context, because these 4 things are also true for you!

The 4 things ALL business readers want

1. They’re busy – so it needs to be concise and punchy.

Think about how YOU behave with a long email or a long document.

You might put it off till later. You might decide not to read it at all, and hope someone else fills you in later. Or you might pick up the phone instead of reading it.

At the very least you’ll skim it, hoping to find the key points – but you won’t find them if they’re hidden in pages of narrative and detail.

Good writers know their purpose and their audience - Shelly Davies

Being busy and time-poor is something that is true of ALL BUSINESS READERS.

So if you would appreciate an email or report that gets to the point, fast, and makes more info accessible but doesn’t get in the way of the main points, you really can trust that your reader wants the same thing.

They do.

I’ve never had a CEO or a board member tell me they prefer long, wordy documents.

2. They have questions, and they’re looking for the answers – so help them find the answers. FAST.

When you open an email or have a document on your screen, why do you read it?

Because you want to know something – or some things. 

At the very least when you read an email you want to know how it’s relevant to you – do you need to do anything?

You reader is EXACTLY THE SAME. They come to a document or email with questions.

Your job is to try to make educated assumptions about what those questions are, and ANSWER THEM FIRST.

BLUF. Give your reader the Bottom Line Up Front. Every time. No matter what. Shelly Davies

Yes, seriously, FIRST.

Don’t give pages of background or context or scope or purpose or definitions or preamble!!! 

Yes, I KNOW that’s what we’ve always done.

But remember – this is about writing in a way that acknowledges the reality of the reader experience. And when you’re faced with pages of those things at the beginning of a document, YOU SKIP THEM. 

True?

True.

So why are we playing this ridiculous game? 

I know you think there are things you have to tell your reader so they’ll understand the findings, or the recommendations, or the actions, or whatever, but the simple fact is, they’ll skim/skip/ignore anything until their questions are answered.

So, the way to engage a reader?

GIVE them the answers to their questions first, and then TRUST that they’ll read the rest of the document so they can understand the justification for those answers.

Plain Language allows our readers to act with confidence, because they understand the problems, reasons or recommendations presented. Shelly Davies

Also, see point 3.

3. They WON’T read that email/report/proposal like a novel, from beginning to end – they’ll jump around.

Make the document easy to navigate at a glance.

You want to renovate your kitchen. You get 3 quotes/proposals. Do you read ANY of the words/pages/sales pitch before you find the quoted price?

Ah – NO. 

You skip everything until you find the price.

See?

What do business readers want? You don't want #corporatewankspeak. Nor do they. You don't want long, waffly, unintelligible documents. Nor do they. Here's how to #dropthebs - Shelly Davies

If you think you have to write a document in a certain order so the reader will read it in a certain order, you’re mistaken. #sorrynotsorry

No matter how much you want to believe that your reader will read 10 pages about the experience and values of your company and the quality methods and materials you’ll use and why they should pick you over your competitors, no one – AND I MEAN NO-ONE – will read any of that until they’ve found the price of your quote.

When reading for pleasure, sure, we’ll read from page 1 and work our way through.

When reading in business, we simply don’t.

So like I said in point 2, answer the reader’s questions first.

AND ALSO, make it super easy to navigate the document. Clear, descriptive, statement and question headings. A clear structure and hierarchy of heading levels (and formatting).

When a reader can easily find what they are looking for, they’re more likely to engage with more of the document.

Frustration levels stay low. Readers stay more open-minded. 

4. They’ll skim read – so use visual tools and cues.

Guess what? It’s not just you! 

You’re not just a lazy reader. WE ALL SKIM-READ. Well, 98% of us in a business setting do, anyway.

The most common lies ever told. 90% I have read and agreed to the Terms of Service.

So you can very safely assume your reader will skim read that document. And what makes things skim-readable?

Visuals.

Headings. Descriptive ones. Statement and question headings that don’t require interpretation.

And subheadings – the same. Use them, a lot of them, and use them well – conversationally.

Bullets. Tables. Formatting conventions that “train” your reader to understand things like,

When text is indented and italicised, it’s a quote.

 See how that works?

Physically lean back from a document and look at it from a distance. How much white space is there and how easy is it to differentiate the various levels of headings?

You’re just not that special.

Look, I love you and all. You’re amazing. Very unique (please laugh).

But when it comes to reader behaviour and the psychology of how humans engage with text, you’re just not special.

We need some new jargon. The public are starting to understand what we're talking about!

And that’s great news.

Because you can connect with the very real experience of what it’s like to open a waffly email or a document that is just SUCH HARD WORK to read.

Remember to trust:

What you want as a reader, your readers also want.

#writelikeareader #notspecial

Hugs!

_____________________________________________________________

There is a better way to communicate.

If you’re working from home, you’re emailing. And in this chaos, no-one has time for email ping-pong!

What if your emails could be skillfully on point, EVERY SINGLE TIME?

You can #writebetteremails, with my ONLINE course.

Use my never-fail formula to build connections with empathy and authenticity.

You’ll quickly be writing professional, clear, concise, fit-for-purpose emails that will:

  • save time and sanity
  • deal with customer complaints quickly and with humanity
  • retain clients and smash deadlines
  • get better results, faster replies
  • more YESes, less chasing-up, and enjoy easier business relationships

It will rock your world! Simple as that.

Emails: Saying sorry

Let me start by saying, either you have strong feelings about this, or you don’t.

Between my face-to-face trainings and my online courses, I teach thousands of people each year to write better, more effective emails.

And the discussions around apologies and saying sorry are, well… rigorous!

Emails: Saying sorry - a meme on preferred forms of workplace communication

If you’re one of those people who has a strong position on simply never saying sorry, you might want to stop reading because SPOILER ALERT:

This post is about how and why I believe you should.

Saying sorry is a bigger philosophical discussion than just in terms of writing

I just want to acknowledge that, and let you know this post is about using the word sorry in your emails. That larger philosophical discussion needs to happen somewhere else, and your company’s lawyers might want to weigh in on it.

I guess there’s some belief that saying sorry is somehow admitting legal responsibility or culpability. I can’t credibly speak to that, but I can say that if there’s legal risk in saying sorry, I can live with it. Out of the millions of times in my life I’ve used the word sorry, there’s a high percentage of times when it helped me reach a good outcome, and absolutely zero times I’ve got myself into legal hot water. I’m happy to continue carrying that level of risk.

Using SORRY when apologising by email

Emails: Saying sorry - a meme "I really do apologize...for not being sorry"

It’s pretty simple. Read these out loud:

I apologise for XYZ.

I’m really sorry for XYZ.

Now I’m not asking you to read those out loud with your writer switch turned on and ask yourself which one sounds more “professional” when you imagine yourself writing it.

I’m asking you to read it out loud as a reader.

As the receiver of that message. Hear it.

I apologise for XYZ.

I’m really sorry for XYZ.

The natural, conversational voice is FAR MORE LIKELY to sound genuine. And trust me – if you’re genuinely apologising, you do NOT want to leave any room for your reader to wonder if you really mean it.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.   #killmenow

We know this was really inconvenient. We’re sorry.   #boombaby

Put simply, if you need to apologise in writing, you should use the word SORRY. It’s helpful.

Emails: Saying sorry - Plain Language micdrop image.  The formal business voice removes the humanity in our communications.  It's practically impossible to sound human and genuine in a formal business written voice.

Using SORRY as a conversational word in your emails

There’s a school of thought that says people (especially women) should have stronger, more assertive (more ‘traditionally masculine’?) voices in the workplace, and so they shouldn’t soften with words like just and sorry.

I’m not one of those.

I believe my feminine energy is my power. I use that.

(And holy fuck if you read that and equate feminine energy and power with sexuality and assume I’m promoting women using sexuality as leverage, you and me need to TALK. Plus, I just wrote you and me, not you and I. Ahuh.)

Emails: Saying sorry - Words have power.  You have power.

And so if I consciously CHOOSE to soften my messages, as a diplomatic and strategic and generous way of achieving an outcome, I will. (Fuck you.)

Empathy is one of my superpowers (didn’t you feel it oozing out through that fuck you just then?).

I can put myself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how it would feel to receive that message with the sorry, and again without the sorry. If I believe the sorry is going to feel better for them, I’m likely to use it.

Quote: Being readercentric (AKA empathy), puts us in the shoes of our readers - Shelly Davies

So, after all my rants, so what?

So this:

Fuck the words –

  • apologies
  • apologise
  • sincerely
  • endeavour

If you need to apologise in writing, use the words you’d say out loud.

If you have to apologise face to face in the media, don’t read a written apology. Those are shite.

Trust that things you would say to people’s faces will translate best into the written word.

#sorrynotsorry

Emails: I'm sorry - Trust that the things you would say to people's faces will translate best into the written word

________________________________________________

Psst!

If you’re really looking to end the email torture forever, I can help!

What if I told you that there is actually a simple, incredibly fast formula to writing an email, and it’s actually proven to get faster replies, increased buy-in and approvals, and make you look incredibly professional, confident, and efficient? Well, there is.

And it uses: – neuroscience to influence how the reader processes your message, and psychology to leverage on how we know readers behave at work. 

What if I said you could sit down right now for ONE HOUR and learn how to use it and never look back? Less-chasing. Fewer games of email tennis. Significant amounts of time saved. Significant increases in productivity.

My online Write Better Emails course will change your life, today!

Wanna deal for all your employees? You can connect with me here, or here, or here!

Check out my 1-Day in-house Email Writing Training to have me rock your business writing world in person!

Emails: Saying sorry - Write Better Emails - a never-fail formula to apply to every kind of email - an online course

Writing saves lives

And that’s not clickbait. Writing saves lives. Actual lives.

So when accountants bring me in and call my work a soft skill, that fucks me off.

But anyway… that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I’m here to talk about my growing list of names of people whose lives my writing has saved. And how you can do the same.

Actual lives

Last year I overheard a conversation about someone’s toddler with severe asthma. They listed a number of incidents where the toddler was in life-threatening situations because they lived too far away from hospital and even an ambulance. They’d had to drive to meet the ambulance on the side of the road a number of times, because waiting could have been fatal.

Every one of those incidents was a situation that could be resolved with a nebuliser in their home.

If they had that, they wouldn’t have needed the hospital or the ambulance. But they had asked their GP multiple times if one would be provided. He had said no.

Enter: your friendly badass rockstar writer.

The power of written records

I knew that when things are in writing, on record, it’s much harder to say no.

I knew that if you need to advocate for yourself in the medical system, that there’s a powerful approach you can use (thanks, Twitter):

When you ask for a test or an assessment or a medication or a treatment and the GP says no, ask them to put your request and their denial of that request on your file.

It means that if, somewhere down the line, it turns out that you were right to make that request and the GP made a wrong call, there’s a record of that. That’s risky for your doctor. It doesn’t look good.

So, often, you asking for that will make them change their mind. Not always. It’s not a guarantee. But if you do it when you need to, then when and if you need it you have evidence to show:

  1. how you’ve been advocating for your own wellbeing, and
  2. how the system has been responding.

I whipped up a document

So if we go back to the toddler and her asthma, I whipped up a document. I think it took me 17 minutes.

The document was a template which put the family’s request for a nebuliser IN WRITING, and listed recent incidents as evidence to support that request.

The family took the document to the doctor, and HELLO, nebuliser in the home.

Just like that. After months and months of distress and worry.

The document was simple. It was SO FAST for me to throw together.

And so started the actual list of lives my writing has saved.

My list is growing

This week I added one of my daughters’ names to that list.

I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve written in the last 2 weeks, cc’ing in the universe, to push back against systems that aren’t providing her with the care she needs.

It has been a battle, I tell you.

But every email I’ve written, every time I’ve hit send, I’ve increased the power of my voice in advocating for her.

I’ve created an evidence trail of what’s been happening, what she needs, and HELD THE PEOPLE AND ORGANISATIONS ACCOUNTABLE.

It’s working.

It’s ongoing.

But at the end of a long day where I’ve added 14 powerful emails to the paper trail and my daughter is still alive and is the safest she’s been in months, I wanted to tell you.

Don’t forget that writing saves lives.

A word of caution

For this kind of writing to be as powerful as possible, you need it to be sharp. And when I say sharp, I mean:

  • TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE. Just making noise in public isn’t enough.
  • Concise, not waffly
  • Factual, matter-of-fact, and not overly emotive
  • Assertive – 100% clear on what the problem is, and what you want done about it
  • It might need a timeframe – eg URGENT response required by COB today
  • And in some cases, or eventually, it might need an or else. You might need to let them know what your next steps will be if they don’t act or respond

You can’t just write and blow off steam and rip people new ones via email and expect that will get you results.

You need firm. Reasoned. Factual. Stripped back. Assertive.

Now, what?

So, m’loves, what in your world do you need a written record of?

What will give your voice more weight when it’s ON THE RECORD?

Cos the written word has POWER. It has WEIGHT. It changes things. It gets heard differently. It gets listened to.

Go and write something that will reclaim your power. And maybe even save a life.

And PLEASE fucking stop calling writing a soft skill.

________________________________________

Are YOU ready?

So, if you’re ready to save lives (or save other people medical bills from when you’ve ripped them a new one and they have to get it fixed, and…and…let’s not go there), how about you download my AMAZING PDF on how to write emails that save lives?

You look smart. Go on.