Write On!

By Robert Goldman

March 12, 2020 6 min read

Our sermon for today concerns a workplace problem that everyone has, except me.

Everybody is dying to read what I write at work. Take you, for example. But what you write — an insightful memo, an urgent email, a game-changing report — nobody wants to read.

Or so says Aaron Orendorff.

Orendorff is the author of "Your Colleagues Don't Read Anything You Write. Here Are 8 Ways to Change That," a recent article in The New York Times.

A sympathetic soul, Orendorff is quick to assure you that "it's not personal." "We're just inundated," he writes, with a flood of communications. The result is a "wasteland of no response," in which "our words disappear into the ether."

The following are a few tips for making your verbiage irresistible — just like mine.

No. 1: "Write less often."

Pick one or two critical areas, and concentrate your communications on those subjects. For example, instead of emailing your managers that your CFO has just purchased a one-way ticket to the tropical island of Bongo-Bongo, an offshore banking oasis with no extradition treaty, make the subject of your next email an in-depth analysis on the significance of Max cheating with Dayna on "Vanderpump Rules."

Now that's a critical area on which you can concentrate that everyone wants to read.

No. 2: Establish a 24-hour waiting period.

"Armed with technologies like smartphones, Slack and Skype, it's easy to operate in rapid-response mode," warns author Liz Wiseman, who further advises, "When another recipient could or should answer, give that person the right of first response."

Excellent advice. You will be known as someone who is considerate, and you are significantly less likely to put forward a dumb response that will lead to a short meeting with human resources and a very long period of unemployment.

No. 3: "Use fewer words."

"Brevity is the soul of wit," wrote Shakespeare, a policy that Orendorff asserts should be applied to your own communications. I don't agree. Shakespeare had a cushy niche in the Elizabethan gig economy with no penny-pinching managers breathing down his ruffled collar. In your position, tenuous as it is, you want to use lots and lots of words to give the appearance that you are actually working.

Best of all, since no one will read your words, feel free to insert bits and pieces of random writing into your communications. I'll wager that you could slip the entire text of "Hamlet" into your next report, and no one will notice. (Even if they do read it, the inserted text will make perfect sense in your workplace. After all, the major themes of the play are betrayal and revenge.)

No. 4: "Put action words in your subject line."

To keep communications short and sweet, "tell your recipients before word one what's expected."

According to Orendorff's example, if you want feedback on an upcoming meeting, instead of writing "Agenda for Tuesday" in the subject line of your email, use "PLEASE COMMENT: Agenda for Tuesday."

This is probably a good rule for someone who does want feedback, but since you never want to deal with any opinions other than your own, adapt the technique for your own mildly egomaniacal approach to work with a subject line like "PLEASE IGNORE: Agenda for Tuesday," or "Agenda for Tuesday, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS AND KEEP YOUR NOSE OUT OF MINE."

An email like this is sure to get you the action you want — being left alone.

No. 5: "Don't make it about you, or 'them.'"

When you are crafting your minimessage, make it about "us."

"When seeking assistance or buy-in, we typically ask colleagues for their 'opinion,'" Orendorff writes. "Turns out, that's a mistake. ... When we ask for 'advice,' people see themselves as partners. And advice versus feedback significantly increases both the amount and quality of responses."

By asking for "advice," you will have to deal with someone else's stupid ideas instead of your own stupid ideas, but you also get something truly valuable in return — an accomplice. Yes, you can defend your ideas with figures and facts, but the best defense against management coming down on you is having someone else to blame.

Best of all, if your workplace BFF has offered their advice in writing, you have the proof you need to pin the disastrous outcome on someone else.

You may not keep your friend, but you will keep your job. And you will have certainly learned a bigger lesson: The only strategy better than keeping your written communications short is not to communicate at all.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: FirmBee at Pixabay

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