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Business Costs of Poor Communication and How to Avoid Them

What are the costs of poor communication?

  • For 400 companies with over 100,000 employees in the U.S. and U.K, the estimated cost of employee miscommunication is $37 billion. The average cost per company is $62.4 million per year. Smaller companies face significant costs as well.
  • A study of 4,000 employees showed almost half (46%) were unsure of what was being asked of them by their line manager when given tasks and over a third (37%) experienced this uncertainty between one and three times a day.
  • Poor communication plays a role in many organizational problems, including increased employee turnover, increased absenteeism, poor customer service, ineffective change management, failed project delivery, greater incidence of injuries, and higher litigation costs. All of these factors lead to decreased profitability and lower shareholder return.

What is poor communication?

Poor communication…   And its costs…
A company worker sends an email or memo about something that needs to get done. The receiver does not understand what he or she needs to do.   The receiver asks the sender to clarify (wasted time), does the wrong work (wasted time and productivity), or ignores the message because she doesn’t understand it (total loss).
A company worker sends an email or text and the receiver interprets the tone as hostile, dismissive, or disrespectful.   The reader gets sidetracked responding emotionally to the message without handling the actual situation. The receiver complains to other employees about the sender, which sabotages organizational culture. Nothing gets done, because the tone hijacked the message.
A company worker writes a quick message to a customer, but doesn’t check it over. It turns out he spelled the customer’s name wrong, made obvious grammar errors, or mistakenly sent the message to the wrong person.   The customer is offended. She loses confidence in the company, and looks for a better provider. If she receives a message and realizes that it was not meant for her,she becomes seriously concerned about the security of her own information, and leaves the company immediately.
Someone writes a report or email and warns of an impending problem and suggests a possible solution… but his message is long, drawn-out,  and never makes a clear point .   The reader either doesn’t finish reading the report or doesn’t realize how important it is. The problem goes unsolved and negative consequences occur.

Poor communication – especially poor written communication – costs businesses billions of dollars a year.  Some estimates range at about $26,000 per year per employee in lost time, diminished productivity, and increased errors.  What’s sad is that the costs of poor communication can be avoided.

Avoiding the Costs of Poor Communication

How can you avoid the costs of murky memos, egregious emails, and loathsome letters? By giving your employees something they probably never learned in school: Guidance about what communication standards you expect them to keep. Here are a few standards that most organizations would benefit from adopting:

  1. 1.Make the main point or request within the first 40 words of every document.

Many people do not read to the end of the documents they receive. They may read the first few lines, and then lapse into skimming mode or bail out of the document altogether. If writers do not make their points early, they risk not having them heard at all.

  1. 2.Use language you know your reader will understand. Limit technical jargon.

If you use a word or acronym that the reader does not understand, what will he do? Scamper over to the dictionary and look it up? More likely, he will try to figure out the meaning from the context, and quietly resent the person who made him feel ignorant. If the reader guesses wrong, the writer’s meaning goes out the door.

 Avoid jargon. Identify acronyms the first time you use them. Consider your reader before making word choices. Write for your reader!

  1. 3.Maintain an average sentence length of 20 words per sentence, as measured by MS Word’s Check Readability Statistics function.

Long sentences are hard to follow. When sentences are longer than 20 words, the reader’s brain gets tired. Of course, a smart reader can decipher even a gargantuan sentence, but he will probably have to read it several times. This takes up precious time and mental bandwidth that your workers can’t afford to spare.

  1. Re-read every document at least once before you send it.

How do you feel when you receive a document full of typos, grammar errors, punctuation errors, and the occasional misspelled name? Does it raise or lower your opinion of the writer?

When you are the reader, you know that you think less of a writer who didn’t proofread. Yet in the heat of the moment, you may say to yourself, “I don’t need to proofread. I don’t have time to proofread. I’m sure it’s fine,” and send an email or document whose contents you will live to regret. Remember the old saying: Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing right. Force yourself to re-read before you send.

Communication was once considered a “soft skill” --  nice to have, but not a core competency. In today’s interconnected world, however, communication is the electric current that keeps your business alive. If that current gets interrupted, your systems break down.

 Need customers to understand your product? Need employees to understand their tasks? Need your coworkers to know what you need? Communication is what will get you results. 

©2017 Elizabeth Danziger

Worktalk Communications Consulting delivers customized writing training, email effectiveness workshops, and individual coaching that measurably increase writing results. For information on the Worktalkprograms, go to worktalk.com or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

* Miscommunication included actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood or were misinformed about company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three.

Editing for Others: Don't Change for the Sake of Change

Editing for Others: Don’t Change Just for Change’s Sake

“The strongest compulsion in the world is not love, and it is not hate; it is one person’s desire to edit another person’s copy.”                   --   H.G. Wells

 

“Infuriating”

“Frustrating”

“Upsetting”

These are some of the words that people use in my trainings to describe their experience when someone in their organization changes their writing without making the writing any better. Few things are as disempowering as working hard to craft a document, putting time and thought into your presentation, only to have one layer of management after another hack it to pieces and return it, bleeding, to your hands. Why do editors and managers change people’s writing so frequently or so dramatically?

Sometimes, The Original Wasn’t That Good.

Although writers do not like to admit this, sometimes editors change text because the text needed changing. Perhaps it was not purposeful; it was inappropriate to the reader; it did not get to the point; it was not parallel; it was verbose; it disclosed information better left private; it contained long, convoluted sentences. There may be many legitimate reasons why a manager might want to edit someone’s work, perhaps even to edit it severely. In these cases, the editor should do his or her best to explain to the writer the rationale for the changes. If changes are made, there should always be a rationale. The person who was edited needs to take a deep breath, focus on the success of the document rather than his or her personal feelings, and revise the document.

Power, Turf, and Justifying Your Pay Grade

What about the cases when there is no clear rationale for the change? The material is appropriate. The grammar is correct. Yet red marks stream across the page, exchanging one word for another of the same meaning and similar connotation, making grammatical changes that are difficult to justify, switching the order of words in a sentence to no apparent benefit.

What motivates these edits? The recipients of apparently empty edits have opinions. “Power play.” “Marking their turf” “Justifying their salary” Particularly frustrating to these individuals are the cases when their work is hacked up by many levels of management, only to return to something like its original form, after various people have spent dozens of hours on the revisions. This situation is bad for productivity, bad for the organization, and bad for morale.

How can you judge whether to edit?

If you are the editor, how can you know whether your edit is valid? Is it worth the frustration it will cause to the person who drafted the document? Here are some guidelines:

  • Does the document have a clear purpose or intention?
  • Is the document appropriate to its reader in terms of language, detail, and content?
  • Is the main point clear?

If not, edit for these factors.

  • Is the grammar wrong? Are you sure it is wrong?
  • Is the sentence over 20 words long?
  • Does the sentence contain unnecessary noun phrases, clichés, or verbal sludge?

If so, edit to correct.

However, if you are just not sure you like the way it sounds, think seriously before changing it. If the document is going out under your signature and it doesn’t sound like something you’d write, perhaps you need to change it. But if it is an organizational document that many hands will touch, consider Shakespeare’s notion that discretion is the better part of valor. You can show your value to the process by writing “Looks okay” or even, “Looks good”. You are not obligated to change every document you review.

 

© 2015 Elizabeth Danziger

Elizabeth Danziger is a business writing trainer, editor, and writer. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Learning to Overcome Pride of Authorship

Let’s face it: No one likes to have work corrected. We dream that people will say, “It’s brilliant! It’s perfect! Let’s run with it.” But that doesn’t always happen. In fact, it is much more common to be corrected than to be unconditionally praised. This is part of the writing process. Remember the adage, “Writing is rewriting what has already been rewritten.”

So if you have sweated over your verbiage and then some senseless monster says that your work is not perfect, how do you cope? Here are a few suggestions:

Read more ...

Elements of an Executive Summary

What is an executive summary?

Is it really just a wrap-up of the contents of an entire report or proposal?

Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Before writing one, the first question relates to its purpose.
Every document has an overarching purpose and a writer must know the purpose in order to achieve it well. If you are responding to an RFP or proposing to sell services to a client, then the purpose of your document, and thus of your executive summary, is to persuade, even if you are also presenting lots of information.

Read more ...

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10 Principles of Effective Email

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Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
  • Customized. +

    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
  • Energetic and entertaining. +

    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
  • Proven results. +

    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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