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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Finding Your Tactful Voice

Discover your tactful voice.

Unless you have a personality that instinctively produces easy-listening or easy-reading conversation or prose, you need to be aware of how the tone of your voice on the page or the screen sounds to others.

While there are many kinds of soothing phrases you can weave into your written reports that create a positive effect rather than a negative one, the most foolproof strategy for the beginning workplace writer is to understand the difference between direct and indirect language.  The first is straightforward and often sounds powerful and authoritative or sometimes blunt and rude; the second is tactful and can be interpreted as soft, weak and nurturing.

Depending on the situation, such as sending a good-news letter or a bad-news letter, the approach of your language can bolster or undermine the purpose of your document.  The good-news letter benefits from a direct approach, because there is no reason to be tactful about delivering good news.

However, with unappealing news to deliver--or any kind of information to impart that might be controversial--indirect language is the smarter choice.

What do the two styles of language sound like?

Example 1: 
Direct:  I think you are going a great job!
Indirect:  Although you are obviously putting in some long hours, the results of your efforts are falling short of the sales goals.

Example 2:
Direct: Congratulations on reaching your first anniversary with the company!
Indirect:  A year ago today we hired you with great enthusiasm about the potential contributions you could make to the company; unfortunately, during that time, your excessive tardiness to work and chronic absences have resulted in this warning that you need to reconsider whether you are fully committed to your job, and, if so, does your behavior and attendance reflect that commitment?

If you are not delivering specific news that dictates the approach, direct or indirect, then look at where you place yourself in a sentence.  If you find that you are frequently causing others to believe you are rude or arrogant, simply review your writing and identify how often you begin a sentence with the word "I."   A good tip is to take a highlighter and color each
 I so that you can see it.  A preponderance of "I'" on the page has an excluding effect on the reader.  This writing habit can cause a reader to back away--think you're rude or self-centered, even, harsh.

By reconsidering how to present your ideas with deference to the reader and by using introductory phrases that weave the reader into the document, you will attract rather than repel your reader.

Direct and potentially offensive: I think you ought to do that now.
Less direct and potentially less offensive:  You have many responsibilities throughout the day and I know you are keen to accomplish them all, but would it be possible for you to take care of this first?

There are many ways to cultivate the powers of persuasion inherent in finding and maintaining a tactful voice.  The mindful, listening writer understands his/her own position and extent of authority, and spends his/her words carefully and tunefully with the ultimate hope of fulfilling his/her purpose while at the same time making the experience of reading and working with him/her a more pleasant experience called cooperation rather than obedience.

Daphne Simpkins' most recent book is Christmas in Fountain City

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Simpkins:

    Thanks... This was really helpful.