Improve Your Messages to Improve Communication


PictureAvoid e-mail and memo mistakes.

Imagine this scene: While at a workplace social gathering, an employee complains bitterly about an offensive memo circulated the same day in his office. Then, as if vying to outdo his example, everyone serves up their own instances of outrageous office memos and e-mail messages.

Three common mistakes emerge:

1. Memos and e-mail messages that avoid confrontations. One party-goer gripes that if her boss had a problem with her work (for example, taking late breaks or not filling out time sheets on a daily basis), the boss communicated through memos, not face-to-face talks. Note: Disciplinary memos and e-mails should never be used as the primary form of communication. In these instances, use a written memo only as a back up or reinforcement to a verbal discussion.

2. Memos and e-mails which address symptoms, not root causes of problems. This next tale involves an e-mail about, of all things, coffee mugs. In particular, coffee mugs left by the staff on a work table in an office. This room serves both as a staff work area and as the staff supervisor’s office. The supervisor sent off a message one morning advising the staff that henceforth, no cups or mugs would be allowed in the room. But as the employee points out, the real problem wasn’t one of mugs cluttering up the work area. The office was next to a public area where staff works. The e-mail did not address the root problem of where staff should drink coffee outside of public view. Furthermore, the supervisor refused to even consider the suggestion that a shelf be put up in the office specifically to hold staff coffee mugs.

3. Memos and e-mails containing incorrect grammar and punctuation. Another person tells of receiving a staff memo from her division director’s office. The memo outlined for the staff the correct form of future office correspondence (the number of lines between paragraphs, width of margins and the preferred font). Imagine the authority such a memo had when it contained no less than six punctuation errors. The written word — whether in books, letters, office memos, or e-mails — nearly always carries more weight than the spoken word. And the authority of written communications will always be undermined by errors in punctuation, spelling and grammar.

Best practice: Always communicate important personal information to employees — especially corrections, reprimands, praise and compliments — face-to-face. Many communications can be sent to employees in memos and e-mails, and some communications must be put in writing for documentation. But the important, personal messages are best delivered face-to-face.

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