By Jennigay Coetzer Miscommunication

The misunderstandings that happen with verbal communication carry through to all forms of writing.

This is apparent in articles, emails, promotional material, web content and all other forms of written content. Miscommunication has also become an issue with social media interaction, especially when companies are not very good at responding to negative comments from customers about bad service.

In fact it seems that a lot of companies generally battle with the way their staff communicate with each other and with customers. I was recently asked to run a workshop for the customer-focused staff of a certain company specifically on writing emails.

Prior to the workshop, all the participants were sent the same authentic email customer complaint to respond to and the results were very interesting. Only one of the nearly 20 participants had apologised upfront for the incident the customer was complaining about and many of them had immediately gone on the defensive, going on about the company’s excellent customer service record.

This would undoubtedly have fueled the fury and frustration of the customer who’s complaint they were responding to. Other issues included vagueness, lack of clarity, assumption, taking too long to get to the point, lack of empathy for the reader, and lots of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.

The email responses were also generally stilted and lacking in spontaneity due to the person writing the email trying to be too smart with the wording, and in some cases the tone was arrogant and patronising. A common excuse was that it is hard to keep up with the high volumes of email.

But surely it is better to take a few more minutes writing an email and reading it through carefully through the recipient’s eyes before sending it than ending up having to send two or three more emails to clear up the misunderstandings that have arisen because of writing it in a rush.

It is interesting to note that most of the issues we are discussing here are common to all forms of verbal and written communication, as I have experienced during the writing courses and media training workshops I run.

One of the challenges with all forms of communication today is the expectation people have of instant gratification. Don’t ever assume that people will read your emails, articles, blog posts, written reports, or any other content word for word.

So it’s important to ensure that all the most important points are covered upfront and to be as concise as possible. People invariably write emails, articles and other content to influence the reader in some way, for example to convince him or her about a point of view or put across a business case for a concept or a solution they are selling.

But so often it is apparent that the person writing the email, article, blog post, or other form of written content is too focused on what he or she wants to say and has given little thought to the reader. Meanwhile the reader is looking for what’s in it for him or her.

A good tip with all forms of writing is to say “So what does this mean to the reader?” after every sentence and make sure the content that follows contains the answer to this question.

Jennigay CoezerJennigay Coetzer is a  freelance writer, author and trainer.  She tailors writing workshops, communication training and media training to suit specific needs. Email her at jennigay@icon.co.za  for more information about her services or connect with her on LinkedIn. An ebook version of her book A Perfect Press Release – or Not? can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za, which contains plenty of writing tips.

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