I have a tendency to over-complicate things. Put it down to an active, sometimes anxious, brain that likes to over-think. But also to my love of words and language. I actually like using metaphors and descriptions to make my communication more interesting, more colourful, to pepper my speech with analogies or anecdotes. But recently I’ve been questioning if this can sometimes get in the way of communicating with people effectively.
Do too many words muddy the message?
Let’s look at emails first. The concept can be true for both written and verbal communication, but let’s look at the written form today. Research has shown that the average time someone wants to spend reading an email is 11 seconds. That’s barely 3 lines! Anything longer and we tend to flag it for later in the day, and perhaps it gets forgotten about til later in the week. Lost amongst the swathes of emails, tweets, texts and instagram or facebook messages we receive every day. I know I’m a flag-and-save kind of girl. (Though I do try to be good about keeping a 24hour rule when it comes to responding to people, so please don’t let that put you off writing to me!)
Conciseness: the quality of being short and clear; expressing what needs to be said without unnecessary words
So, if you want your email to be read that day, it needs to be able to be read in 10-15 seconds. Let’s say 3-5 lines. And for ease of legibility, these should be spaced out evenly.
This isn’t easy! I wrote a poem a few months ago (attached below) which denotes just how hard it is to write a short, direct email, especially when there are emotions involved. When you are in some way attached to the response or outcome of that email. But the simpler it is, the clearer the message, and therefore the better the connection.
“Keep It Simple Sweetheart!”
- Kelly Johnson
Think of K.I.S.S. to remember. The phrase was coined in the seventies by Kelly Johnson, the lead engineer and creator for government spy planes, in reference to keeping design simple so average mechanics could repair the planes. I think she was on to something. Not only when it comes to emails in fact, but to communication in general.
This doesn’t mean sacrificing grammar. There are articles and business advice blogs out there which suggest leaving out essential grammar to simplify your communication. Text speak. The language of social media like Twitter and Instagram. I wouldn’t suggest this. Particularly not in day to day communication at work with those who aren’t good friends or family!
For example, text speak like “Meet Tues” ,“Grt spec, feedbck blw” ,“We like wll revw”
is not so great. But leaving out the ‘fluff’ can often be helpful when delivering your message.
Consider the following:
What’s the clearest way I can communicate this information? Can I condense my thoughts into a simpler sentence? Can I use less words? What’s the most direct way I can deliver my message?
I find communication can become cloudy. Words and intent can be muddled. So keeping things simple, concise, direct can engender better communication. A clearer connection. perhaps. And we can save the flowery fluff for our journals, emails to the family and longer posts about our recent holiday.
A Poem: Dear Sir
To whom it might concern
I hope you’re well.
I hope you’re really super well.
I hope you’re really well and had a great weekend.
I wanted to write because I just
I wanted to get in touch
I thought I’d get in touch about that thing you wrote
I recently read your recent post about your upcoming piece of
Your latest recent
I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch because I think you’re really super great I love your work
I’d love to work with you
My friend and colleague Joe - who you worked with last year I think?- (I know you did I’m hoping this will put me in your good books hence the name drop slash quite thinly veiled reference to the fact I’ve worked with Joe and that he likes me and respects me and is now my friend you get me? ) Yeh so.
He gave me your details so I’m writing cos I saw this thing on Twitter that you wrote about a new piece that is coming up and so I’m writing with the interest in the interest of being thought of
I hope you’ll think of me cos I think you’re just great
I wouldn’t normally write like this I think you’re fab amazing awesome just fantastic
I saw your post two days ago
I’m writing to apply for this new role
I hope that you’ll consider me
I’m really great
You’re really great
Give me the job
And kind regards
Or yours sincerely
Ps. I’ve worked with joe and now we’re friends.