5/02/2008

Corporate Survival Guide: Battlefield Communications

Clear communication is the key to the kingdom in today's Corporate Warzone. It's the nonfat in your triple latté, the mousse in your hair, the lifts in your shoes. It's what makes things work in the company, and it's the thing that will distinguish you from the rabble.

The ability to clearly articulate what you mean is the, the, the ... well, it's real important, like.

That's why you have to become the master of all means of communication. I will cover only one mechanism them today, but there are many more that may come in handy. You may want to learn smoke signals and semaphores on your own until I have a chance to address them.

Email

Email has become the single-most critical communications mechanism on the Corporate Battlefield, exceeded only in importance by the pursed-lip smile as you pass someone you don't know well enough to actually talk to. The ability to formulate an effective email message is a crucial success factor in executive trajectory. In fact, studies have shown that someone's email-output volume is directly proportional to their pay grade and their cube size.

So let's look at what makes an effective email.

Spelling

When you're sending email to your boss, what do you think she's going to value more: a misspelled and poorly grammarificated message, or one that is clear, concise, well thought-out, and perfectly constructed?

Right: they prefer the message that looks like it came from a three year old.

Executives don't care about correctness; they care about slavish productivity. If you send a message that looks like you actually took time to compose it, they'll wonder why you have that much time available. They may start to wonder what else you actually did today, or what you're working on that can suffer from such a lack of attention while you penned your work of art. They may even wonder why they hired you and whether the location you work in has any laws against killing employees.

But if you send a message that looks like you composed it on a broken phone while running under sniper fire, they'll know that you were so busy with Really Important Stuff that you didn't have the time and ease to actually think about how it looked. They'll know that you're giving it to them straight; you're too busy to think about image, and you just focus on Getting It Done. They'll be impressed.

But how can you achieve the right tone of wrong in your emails? Short emails can be easy to craft for this by just hitting a few random keys along the way. But longer emails require thought and attention. Writing wrong can sometimes take all day to hit the perfect mix, but it's worth the time and effort. There are also tools available to assist you, ones that can create seemingly random typos and re-wordings that find the right balance between getting the message across and looking horrible.

Punctuation

Punctuation. Is. Interesting. Isn't. It?

Did you notice that? Did you notice how I cleverly inserted periods (".") in the previous sentence? Probably not - it was such a subtle introduction of punctuation that it probably slipped right by you, while at the same time changing the very nature of how your mind interpreted that sentence.

You, too, can become effective with punctuation use in your emails. You just need some rules and hints about where to use - and NOT use - punctuation appropriately. For example:

  • Don't use a period at the end of paragraphs. The period is implicit and using it will show your boss that you had enough free time to spend it wastefully on unnecessary dots.
  • Exclamation points cannot, CANNOT!!!!, be over-used. It not only adds emphasis, it adds excitement!, suspense!!!, and an indication that what you are speaking about, right now!, is clearly the most important thing that your boss has seen all day! They will be compelled to read, re-read, and then probably photocopy and send it around in an office memo, highlighting the phrases that have exclamation points in them.
  • Consider the comma: Don't make your boss read so many sentences; he's a busy guy! Instead, take all of the periods out and replace them with commas. Besides saving all of the mental energy of having to stop, pause, and re-start to read each separate sentence, this approach will help collect all of your ideas together as one compelling thesis that supports some stunning conclusion.

CAPITALIZATION

I bet as you were reading the section above this, your eyes automatically noticed the all-caps word CAPITALIZATION that lay below. They hungered for that section, trembling in anticipation, because clearly the upcoming section was IMPORTANT. Make your emails important. USE CAPITALS WHEREVER YOU CAN. IN FACT, YOU SHOULD GLUE YOUR CAPS KEY DOWN SO THAT YOU DON'T FORGET. DO IT NOW. I'll WAIT.

Priority

Some email programs allow you to set the priority on your outgoing messages. Get one of those programs. Set it up so that every message you send is rated at the highest priority. That way, your boss will know that what you talk about is important, what you're working on must be important, and therefore _you_ must be important.

Request Receipt

Some programs allow you to specify that the reader of your important communiqués should send you a receipt to show that they've read it. Get such a program. Set it up to always request a receipt. This won't actually result in any receipts because everyone hates sending those back. But the people you contact will know that you're actively involved in your messages, and they will respect you more as they click on "No, don't send a receipt" and look for the option to disable that dialog forever in their program.

Words, words, words

When your boss receives a message, like "Nd to talk, 2?," how do you think they'll feel?

Right - they'll think that there's nothing to talk about. It's an empty email, saying nothing, and you therefore must have nothing to say.

Fill your emails with volumes of information. Background on the problem, on where things stand and where they've been, on what you've been working on to solve the issue, on your plans for fixing it, and an agenda for the meeting. Talk about where you'd like to help take the company in the future, what you did last weekend, and what you had last night for dinner. Give your boss something to hold onto that says I Have A Lot To Say.

Put the critical info in the first sentence, because your boss certainly won't read past it. In fact, the rest of the 3 Megabytes of verbal spew can be copied from elsewhere since, like the lettuce and tomato in a BLT, it's only filler. I use an email template where I simply replace the first sentence and the rest of the mail is the same every time. Nobody has ever mentioned it.

Volume

Send as many emails as you can. Send preview emails before the main ones, then follow-ups and reminders. Send notes to say that you don't have anything to report. Send emails to large aliases of people you don't know. CC your boss on every communication.

Email is the weapon of choice in today's corporate battlefield. Like many weapons, it doesn't matter if your aim sucks, as long as you just keep shooting.

Wrap Up

Remember: people judge you not just by the way you look, but by the messages you send. Be sure to get them write.
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