By Elaine Orr
There are as many ways to say “we’ve exceeded our budget” as there are to say “there’s a big snow storm coming,” but neither phrase is welcome in a city council meeting. While wording and tone may not change the message, they may change the way it’s received.
Most of us do not need to be concerned that the media will latch onto what we write at work, though with open records laws the work of public servants can face more scrutiny. It does not take a Freedom of Information Act request to get you in trouble. In the “old days,” you could remove a memo from the out box, but any email missive can be forwarded in seconds. Best to think before you press send.
You’ve been asked to critique a proposal. It could be a major policy change or a new performance appraisal system. How would you approach this so that your ideas are in the forefront, not how you present your opinion?
1) As in all interactions, respect is essential. This goes beyond avoiding disrespectful terms. Don’t be dismissive of others’ ideas.
2) Pay attention to the question at hand. If an idea has been accepted and you are asked to comment on how to implement it, don’t take the reader’s time with you criticism (or praise) of the idea.
4) Open your critique with what “works” about a proposal. Rarely is any proposal totally bad, and you give more credibility to any negative comments if you recognize the positive aspects.
6) If you say something could be improved, give specific examples of how your suggestions will make a difference.
7) Separate what you think about a proposal from the person who wrote it. You could bias your response positively or negatively.
8) Be as concise as possible. Not only can a reader get your points faster, as you condense you see what is most important.
9) Proof what you write. It may be a reader’s unconscious reaction, but spelling errors and wordy sentences can make your response less credible.
10) Be prepared to accept the views of others. Self-confidence is an asset, self-centeredness is not.
If you read this list carefully, you see the first and last points are similar. Subtle repetition can reinforce a position. Respect is paramount. Don’t you agree? Tell me how you communicate not-so-good news messages.
And by the way, the softly falling snow will have an effect on the public works budget.