Abraham Lincoln is one of the most loved Presidents of the USA. He is an admired leader of the world for he always thought before he spoke. The incident given below highlights his thoughts on writing and the learning can be extended to helping you to improve business writing skills.
One day Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury Chase said, “Oh, I am so sorry that I did not write a letter to Mr. So-and-so before I left home!”
President Lincoln promptly responded:
“Chase, never regret what you don’t write; it is what you do write that you are often called upon to feel sorry for.”
(From Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories, by Colonel Alexander K. McClure)
A well thought, structured and concise mail or report is easier to read. It saves the reader a lot of precious time in today’s busy world. Lincoln’s seemingly simple response in this story has great meaning. You have to be careful of the words you speak – even more of the words that you write. You are responsible for what you have stated in your writing.
This gives you even more reason to ensure that you recheck the contents for its grammar, punctuation and flow of thought before delivering it to the intended recipients. A minute or two spent in rechecking this way would save you a lot of time, trouble and explanations later.
The bottom line is: Be aware of what you write and how you do so, since it has an impact on your image and career. Improving this aspect of your communication skills can go a long way in putting your career on the fast track.
We learn many valuable morals from the famous Aesop’s fables. I shall share my thoughts with respect to business communication with regards to the following fable today:
A crab and her child were walking down the beach one day. While doing so, the crab irately watched while the child strolled in a one-sided manner. She said, “Why don’t you walk in a straight manner? It is easier and more pleasing to the eye.”
The young crab replied, “Mother, if you could show me the straight way to walk, I promise I will follow you.”
The mother crab decided to show her child the right way. But as much as the crab tried, she could not walk straight. She finally realized that her child learnt to walk from her; all her effort was in vain, and that she should not have reprimanded her child without any basis.
In business communication, always ensure that you make educated statements about a subject – be it written communication or verbal communication. In other words, ensure that you are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) in what you say and deliver. By doing this, you can go a long way in paving the way for a successful career. This is because such individuals come across as those who can communicate effectively under all odds, are decisive and is consistent in thought and action.
Workplace communication skills are hence a cluster of intelligent thought, effective words and powerful actions.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Stephen Covey
Here is a well known anecdote that reinstates the importance of effective questioning in verbal communication:
Two young men were walking home after having attended a religious service by a renowned priest. One man said to the other, “I wonder whether it would be alright to smoke while praying.” The other replied, “Why don’t you ask the priest?”
The next day, the first man went up to the priest and asked, “Father, may I smoke while I pray?” The priest replied, “No son, that is disrespectful.”
The young man went back to his friend and recounted what the priest had said.
The second man replied, “I am not surprised. You asked the wrong question. I shall give it a try.”
Saying this, he went up to the priest and asked, “Father, may I pray while I smoke?” The priest replied, “By all means, my son. By all means.”
What is the learning point of this story?
Communication skills consist of effective questioning methods. It is an understood fact that you can elicit the desired response by asking the right questions. This would require a certain amount of tact and presence of mind. With practice, you can get better at asking the right questions. By mastering the art of effective questioning, you would be able to consistently communicate, and hence improve your verbal communication in an effective manner.
Here is a story that will highlight the importance of clarity in written communication:
A blind boy once sat at the side of a busy pavement with a hat placed in front of him. He had a hand-written sign that said: “I am blind. Please help.”
Passers-by hardly took notice of the boy and there were only a few coins in his hat.
A man who was passing by stopped beside the boy. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then looked at the signboard, took it and wrote a few words on it. “Here you go”, he said and placed it where everyone could see, and then walked away.
Soon the hat began to fill up. The young boy was pleasantly surprised and happy. Later that day, the man who changed the signboard came by. He asked the boy, “How are things?” The boy recognized the man’s voice and said, “Hey mister, were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?”
The man said, “I wrote what you wanted to really tell them. It was the same thing that you meant, but only written in a different way.”
He had written: “Today is a beautiful day. But I cannot see it.”
This short story indicates that communication can be made more effective by exploring a different perspective. You can see more results if you do so. This is especially true in written communication. In business communication, it is essential to think from the perspective of the reader. This will improve clarity and help the reader to understand better.
Here is a witty story on an important aspect of communication – effective listening.
In a small town, a police officer curbed a speeding motorist. After pulling over to the side, the man began, “Officer, I can explain…” “Quiet!” replied the police officer hastily, “I’m taking you in for speeding within residential limits”. The man protested, “But officer, please listen! I…” The officer was in no mood to listen. “I asked you to keep quiet! You’re coming with me.”
A few hours later, the officer looked towards the offender and said, “You’re lucky today. The chief’s at his daughter’s wedding. So he’ll be pleasant to you when he gets back.
To this, the man replied, “Don’t count on it. I tried to tell you – I am the groom…”
This humorous story helps to drive home the importance of listening skills in effective communication. Listening to the other person while he/she speaks can avoid communication gaps and consequently, any problems that may arise out of it. If the officer would have listened to the offending motorist’s explanation before taking him in, he would have been able to avoid a lot of problems for everyone involved.
Hence it is important for us to improve our listening skills. Listening is a step above hearing. This is when you not just simply hear with your ears what the other person says; it is when you assimilate the idea or thought that is being conveyed and internalize it. With practice, you can effectively improve your listening abilities. This is a vital step towards improving your communication skills.
“It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes