Dancers have a step called the soft shoe shuffle. It's a form of tap, but the dancing shoes are missing the metal on the soles that makes that snappy loud sound. Instead, the soft shoe dance creates a swishing, pleasing effect. Gene Kelly was a master of this soft shoe. Hands behind his back, he tapped and soft-stepped his way to a variety of partners in a wide rang of musicals, including An American In Paris.
Sometimes when I think of the type of letter or email I need to write to prompt an action or make a request of someone, I try to find the stance or tone that would be most likely to achieve the action I need or elicit the yes from someone who is very, very busy.
For when you are making a special request, you are typically asking for someone to do something for you that is not part of the job description and for which he/she won't be compensated--other than the expression of your gratitude.
That's when the soft shoe dance step--if remembered--will help you to stay light on your fingertips as you write the message that will be welcome even though the request means extra work for you.
I am not as graceful at this as I would like to be, so I am alert to others with whom I work who are. I frequently practice this dance step with people who are better soft shoe dancers than I am. I know a few, and they are all highly-placed executives who don't write like heavy-footed, loud clicking tap dancers.
What they all have in common is the art of the soft shoe shuffle that results in the successful soft sell to others. When they give orders, it can sound like a coaxing request. When they are only requesting, you can't say yes fast enough.
A high-ranking administrator out of state occasionally asks me to do something time consuming and challenging; and though it is not my job, I am always glad to see his name pop up on the screen.
I have never told him no.
Last week, he sent me another prompt, with the request lightly displayed in the subject heading.
One more time? he asked.
This guy can dance on the screen the way Gene Kelly did in Paris: He explained his reason, his need, why I was the one who could help him, and ended with admiration and gratitude that was not overdone.
It was genteel. It felt true, authentic and persuasive. Made me want to dance.
It was easy to say yes, and I tried to mirror his tone--mimick his step on the screen because mastering the soft sell, the soft shoe, the light touch begins with imitation, if you don't already possess that skill.
My assent is not all about making his day, which he claims happens when I agree.
When I say yes, I put myself in a position to learn from someone who is a genius at this kind of communication.
That's how learning to write in the workplace happens. It can feel like hard work or it can feel like dancing.
When the instructor who is asking you for a favor makes you feel light on your feet, too, yes is the only logical answer--and you can't say it fast enough.
That's quite a feat.