Words change the world.
They inspire, unite, direct, empower and prompt action.
They also discourage, divide, anger, misguide, confuse and mislead.
Empires, governments, businesses, relationships and careers rise and fall because of words.
Study President Obama's inaugural speech, John Lennon's "Imagine," Shakespeare's King Lear, The Oprah Winfrey Show's 25 years of broadcast, Forrest Gump's sweet assessment of life and Pliny The Younger's love letters to Calpurnia and you will realise the power of words.
In faith and belief, billions and generations of people have centred their lives on words within Judaism's Tanakh, Christianity's Bible, Islam's Qur'an, the Hindu Sruti, Buddhism's Theravada and more recently, Scientology's Dianetics.
Words change the world.
As entrepreneurs, business leaders and aspiring company directors, think very carefully about the words filling the borders of your emails, documents, instant messages and social media profiles.
Never, ever, underestimate the professional and personal impact of the words you write and send into the ether. Businesses rise and plunge, with written communications evidenced everyday in the world's courts of law in cases against entrepreneurs, CEOs, leaders and colleagues for abuse, defamation, breach of contract, incompetence, misdirection, unfair dismissal, harassment and unlawful business engagement.
As email is the dominant communication tool for entrepreneurs today, here are thirty suggestions to protect and power your enterprise with words that inspire, drive business, loyalty and return on written investment.
- Approach every email with the motivation of selling, optimising or approving an idea, product, service, direction or recommendation. With time, revenue and organisational demands on yourself, the opportunity cost is high when communication does not originate from these objectives.
- Before writing, assess if your objective is more efficiently achieved with a meeting, call, office or workstation visit.
- Your parents, grandparents, guardians and teachers taught you manners. Please use them.
- Address the email recipient by her or his name. This also applies to cold sales prospects that you do not have a direct relationship with. She or he is not known to colleagues as a 'Sir/Madam' or 'Whom It May Concern.' Research their name and designation and you are more likely to receive a response and better still, a positive one.
- 'Hi', 'Good morning' and the like are acceptable ways of starting an email. A less traditional approach is the way forward and if the recipient is based in another country such as Thailand, use a warm 'Sawasdee Krub' and thankful 'Khob Khun Krub'. Case study, glocal HSBC.
- If you don't have a direct relationship with the recipient, state how you are connected or where you acquired their email address, for example through a mutual contact, database, LinkedIn or web-research.
- Be honest, write with integrity, recommend responsibly and sell your proposition factually.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to-the-point.
- Avoid unnecessary upper cases, exclamation marks, repeated use of symbols, emoticons and chat abbreviations.
- Minimise corporate jargon, acronyms and big words.
- Always use the spelling and grammar check tools.
- Clearly explain instructions, use simple words and delete words which may be open to misinterpretation.
- Reply logically, sequentially and thoroughly.
- Numbering and bullet-pointing are effective.
- Remove all negative emotions. If a subject matter is contentious, write or respond professionally with facts, void of emotion.
- Eliminate hyperboles, do not exaggerate and refrain from over-promising.
- Delete repetition.
- Replace negative expressions such as 'don't forget' with engaging words such as 'please remember'.
- Replace 'ASAP' with an exact date or time you require the work completed.
- Avoid being the individual who famously sends 'URGENT' emails. The financial and relationship impact of disrupting workflows is high and your 'URGENT' currency loses value each time you spend it.
- At key project junctures, explicitly state the business consequence if a task is not fulfilled.
- Only send and Cc relevant recipients who require your email to fulfil their tasks. Do not Cc or Bcc irrelevant recipients, as this reflects as sender insecurity, ignites office politics and impacts team productivity.
- If your company is a partnership or greater, weight towards using the royal 'We' rather than individual 'I' in your external communications.
- Intuitively 'sense' and 'pick up' on your sender's writing style and tactfully align. For example, the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company may respond with a punchy 1-line question regarding your business. Answer concisely.
- When attaching documents, compress the files and organise with an end note referencing all attachments and links, so there is no disruption to the flow of your email.
- Start and end your written communications positively.
- Know exactly when to cease email communications, step in and take discussions offline.
- After an offline conversation, send a 'Per our discussion' agreement summary.
- Read business journals, media announcements and advertising copy. Communications professionals are gifted at synthesising information and presenting a simple, singular and strong argument for a product or service. Key to this, I recommend purchasing and lobbying for an e-book of 'How to do better creative work' by Steve Harrison, one of the world's most awarded and acclaimed creative and writing geniuses.
- Stamp your awesome personality within the communication. You're signing off with your name. Own it!
Words can and will shape the future of your company and the world's perception of it.
However, with 1.9 billion email users exchanging over 294 billion messages globally everyday, something more important than your words is? The environment.
Care, challenge and catalyse change within every institution, client, colleague or partner who prints or requests you to print any email or documents exchanged. Educate them about digital alternatives to storing, presenting, viewing, sharing, editing, signing and transmitting documents. You are brilliant, but none of your words or your sender's words are as important as the shared survival of our world's ecosystems.
Within the thirty years between 1960 and 1990, scientists estimated that one fifth of the world's tropical rainforests were destroyed, significantly fuelled by global demand for paper products -- largely contributed by our hunger to exchange and 'consume' words. Deforestation kills ecosystems and accelerates climate change, with the National Geographic Society warning that the world's rainforests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.
With almost 300 billion email messages advancing human knowledge, accelerating business, tightening relationships and conversationally crossing the world everyday, understand the definitive power of your words. However, take a humbler position of its value when weighted against the serious global issues of deforestation, habitat destruction, wildlife extinction and our planet's very survival and sustainability.
Words are central to the human experience of communication and catalytic to the business pursuit of enterprise-building and profitability.
Words can build nations, companies, confidence, loyalty, relationships and trust. They also have the power to cause the opposite.
There is no 'chicken or egg' analogy in this situation. It is very clear. Before actions, come words.
It is with intelligence, integrity and commitment that actions thereafter speak as loud as the words.
Think forward, write well, lead change, print never, recycle always and start today.