“Will you please . . .?”

(This entry first appeared in June 2009. I sent it as an email blast for an internal communication project with the title, Writers’ Toolbox: Will you please . . .?)

We have a four-year old black Labrador named Max.

Max is more than just a pet. He’s a member of the family. (Can you see the resemblance?) Humor aside, Max tried to run away from home when he was about a year old. It’s the best description I can think of, but he didn’t really “run away.”

Labs are explorers; they’re always curious to know “what’s out there?” So one afternoon some years ago, when the gate was open, Max bolted from his spot in the garage and ran into the street. Labs are also annoyingly fast runners, and none of us could catch him quickly enough!

At one year old, Max was still considered a puppy. Our pleas for him to come back fell on deaf ears! Useless words! As a last option, I thought of enticing him with something he has always found irresistible: biscuits. When Max saw me holding out the biscuits (and pretending to walk away from him), he gave up the thought of exploring the neighborhood and ran back home.

This anecdote may not be the most professional way of introducing the concept of constructing persuasive messages. However, there are simple takeaways that we can use as starting points:

Your message should have a purpose
If Max were a real person, we would’ve told him that the reason we wanted him back is that we care for him.

Your message should focus on your reader/s
On this point, I’m not only referring to what people look like, but also their communication style, the words they use (e.g. formal vs. informal, polite vs. impolite), how long or short they write their messages, and so on. I refrain from sending mass email requests, if I can help it. If I’m writing to 8 or 10 people, I’d rather compose short messages based on how that colleague and I communicate.

“What’s in it for me?”
Carefully worded messages are not compelling enough if readers can’t ‘see’ the benefits of working with you, giving in to your request for compliance, or providing an answer, among others. Communicate benefits.

Not included in the sharing is something worth noting, especially after completing a communication transaction.

“Thank you for your help.”
Some business communicators believe it is enough to say “thank you” once or twice to a request that has been granted. It’s business after all, they argue.

I think differently. Beyond business, it is people – at the other end of the line or the other end of the computer reading this message – that makes our communication projects successful! And so I continue to build my relationship with the people I work with, always thanking them and thinking of them.

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