Dale Carnegie taught that the secret to communication—whether verbal or written—is to see things from the point of view of your message’s recipient. But why is this important? After all, if you need to tell someone what you want, shouldn’t you just tell them what that is? Well, yes, but there are different ways to do this. Consider the following examples of an interoffice memo, all of which are supposed to bring about the same result:
This is HR. Give us today’s files RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!!
This approach may produce varying results, but it’s unlikely to foster the cooperation you’re after. Of course most HR departments wouldn’t send a memo like this. However, some might send one that was along these lines:
We need the files today, thanks.
Problem: Who needs the files? Which files do they need? How soon today do they need them? This happens a lot more than it should. People get a memo and wonder exactly what it is they’re supposed to do. When this happens, someone (often middle management) has to take the time to figure out where the memo came from, which person in the department sent it, and what is it they’re trying to make happen.
Now consider the memo in this form:
Please send today’s management summary reports to HR by 3 p.m.
Kathy, HR Director
Why is this method better? Several reasons. First, it starts with the magic word: Please. Next, it explains specifically, clearly, and concisely what the desired action is, and also includes a deadline. Finally, it concludes by thanking the people from whom you’re requesting something (always a good idea!), and it is signed, so you know who it is you’re dealing with.
The Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) works remarkably well in business writing. Whether it’s a memo, an email, a report, or other business correspondence, think before you send: If I received what I’m about to send to someone else, would I act in the way that I want them to act for me? If not, better take the time to make some revisions.