Imperfect Writing for Perfect Results

I write a couple of sentences and then delete them. Write a few more and delete them. It’s a constant, incredibly annoying process.

I always have to rewrite. Is there something wrong with me?

I was afraid to apply for a new position because it involved a lot of writing.   

The comments above, from participants in my writing seminars, illustrate the frustration business people often feel when tackling writing assignments. But it’s not just participants in such classes who suffer from fear of writing. Putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – can be daunting for many people.

I believe that, to a large degree, the frustration comes from people trying to create a perfect piece of writing the first time they sit down to do an assignment, whether it’s a business email or a complicated report. They think that what they type should not need any correcting or rewriting.

They are wrong.

Creating an imperfect piece of writing – a draft – is part of the normal process of writing. Yes, I said normal.

Once you have a draft, you can set about revising it. Most people find it easier to correct their writing than to create the exact wording they want the first time they try. Many well-known people, including professional writers, have expressed their understanding of the importance of writing… and rewriting.

• There is no great writing, only great rewriting. – the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

• I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter. – author James Michener

I describe the making of a draft as “open writing.” This term is easy to remember, as you basically open yourself up and let the words flow. Here are six guidelines to help you with open writing:

1. Relax. People have a tendency to get nervous and then agonize over their writing assignments. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect… yet. One seminar participant told me that once the pressure was off to create a perfect document on her first attempt, she was able to write.

2. Put the email address in last. If you are using open writing in an email, you don’t want to send the email before you have revised it, so leave the “To” line blank until you are satisfied with your message. If you are responding to an email, erase the address and add it when you are finished. (Additional suggestions on email can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes, McGraw Hill, 2017.)

3. Write the way you speak. Most of us have no difficulty speaking coherently and clearly. When you write the way you speak, you are writing in a conversational tone, which helps you connect with your reader. Another advantage is that this approach often helps you to write quickly.

4. Don’t stop writing. No crossing out or back-spacing. You don’t want to disrupt the flow of your thoughts. If you find yourself going off in the wrong direction, write yourself out of it. You will rearrange your wording later. Computers make it very easy to cut-and-paste. (This term survives from a time when writers or editors revising drafts written on typewriters would literally cut up their written paragraphs and paste them in the order they preferred. See how much easier we have it!)

5. Set a time limit. When you sit down to write, allocate a certain amount of time. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. In my classes, my writing assignments are only five minutes in duration, but all the participants write between half a page and one and a half pages. That’s a lot of writing in just a few minutes. After my students have finished their open-writing assignments, I tell them that in the past, most of them probably stared at a blank computer screen for longer than five minutes. Now consider how much they’ve been able to write in the same time in class. That is when the light bulb usually goes on for them, and they realize the value of open writing.

6. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar… for now. You will correct your grammar and spelling before you hit the send button or mail that document. For now, you just want to write.

Once you have followed these six steps, you are not done. Let me say that again: You are not done. Now it is time to revise your writings – but now you have something to work on, instead of a blank screen.

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business writing,
communication, career development,  presentation skills, professional presence, and etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141. (www.pachter.com) 

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Don’t Whine About Your Job. Do Something!


My coworker hates her job. She keeps complaining to me. I have tried to talk to her about what she could do, but she is not listening. She is worried about finding a new position during the coronavirus pandemic. 
 

My husband keeps threatening to quit his job. He only comments negatively about his job and the people who work with him. I wish he would just do something.

My friend was having difficulty with her schedule, but she didn’t go to her boss to discuss alternatives. She just quit. When I had a problem, my boss adjusted my schedule. My friend’s might have been adjusted, too, if she had said something.

As these comments from participants in my seminars indicate, tackling problems that affect our work lives can be difficult. 

When some people become dissatisfied with their work, they do nothing. Perhaps they don’t know how to proceed, or maybe they don’t believe there is anything they can do to improve the situation. Usually, the only action they take is to whine about their bosses, their colleagues, or the work. 

Unfortunately, complaining doesn’t accomplish anything – except having your friends, colleagues and others stay clear of you.

Some, on the other hand, get so frustrated that they impulsively quit their jobs without having another lined up, or without even a plan for the future.


 Both reactions can affect your career negatively. However, there is an alternative that can help people evaluate their work situations. Answering the following four questions encourages people to take action and decide their next steps. 

1. Ask yourself, what is the real issue? It is easy to say, “I hate my job,” but it is important to identify why. What is the real issue that is causing you to be unhappy? Be honest and be specific. Is it the type of work you do, or just one aspect of the job? Is it the commute, the money, your boss, the people you work with, or any number of other causes? One man I coached liked most of the facets of his job, but wanted to quit because he had to make frequent presentations. Another realized that her new position involved using unfamiliar technology, which made her feel uncomfortable and unqualified.  

2. Can you solve the problem? Now that you have identified the issue, is there something that can be done? Is there a realistic solution? If so, what do you have to lose by asking for it? Make the case for your suggestion, including any benefits to your department or to the company. Remember that if you don’t speak up, chances are nothing will change. 

3. Are there advantages to this job? If you can’t solve the problem, think about what you are gaining from the position.  Don’t just quickly say, “Nothing.” Here are four possible things to consider: 

–Is the job a stepping stone?  Will you need the skills you gain from this position to qualify for a job on the next rung of the ladder? One of my early jobs involved working for a horrible boss. Yet I stayed until I had gained the experience I needed, and then I left.   

–Is there any education or training perk to which you have access? Some companies will fund part or all of your ongoing education. This can be a major benefit for many people. 

–Who are you meeting? Does the job allow you to interact with people and build your network? If so, it is possible that by having a strong network, additional job opportunities will come your way. 

–Can you learn to manage your boss? Learning to work with difficult people is an important skill that almost certainly will be beneficial to you at some point in your career.

4. Is it time to start a job search? Depending on how you answer the above questions, you may decide that it is time to start looking for a new position. (Specific suggestions for looking for work during the pandemic can be found in my blog, Looking for a job? 10 tips to help you succeed in a coronavirus world). You may even decide to change careers. Any number of alternatives may now be available to you. This doesn’t mean you just quit your job. Generally, it is best to look for a new job (or career) while you are still working at the old one. 

Information on conducting a thorough job search can be found in my book The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.   


Whether you decide to stay at your current job or to look for a new one, feel good about your choice. You are doing something: You have taken charge of your career. 

I post regularly on communication and etiquette. We can connect via LinkedInTwitterFacebook or my website:pachter.com
  
About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally-renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence.  (bpachter@pachter.com)  

Women are being interrupted … again!

Yet another study shows women are interrupted more than men.  

A recent article in The New York Times, For Women in Economics, the Hostility Is Out in the Open, discusses a study reported last month that found when female economists presented their research findings, they were interrupted by audience members asking questions. The women received 12 percent more questions than men, and they were more likely to get questions that were patronizing or hostile.

Other examples of women being interrupted more than men include:

–A few years ago an article in the Harvard Business Review,  Female Supreme Court Justices are interrupted more by male justices and advocates, found that male justices interrupted female justices about three times as often as they interrupted each other during oral arguments. The research also found that “there is no point at which a woman is high-status enough not to be interrupted.”

–During a women’s communication seminar in Kuwait some years ago I commented that men interrupt women more than they interrupt other men. One of my students said, “Barbara, you’re right. You can see the American men interrupt the American women on your TV shows that we get here.” I was surprised that this gender bias was so obvious – but I really shouldn’t have been. 

When a woman is interrupted regularly with questions or comments (anyone can be interrupted occasionally), her credibility is being challenged, and her influence can certainly be minimized as a result.

The following suggestions can help women – and men – to manage interruptions assertively, whether people are asking unsolicited questions or interjecting unwanted comments during small meetings or large group presentations: 

Let people know when you will be taking questions. Either the speaker or the meeting organizer can tell people how the Q&A will be handled. Often the audience is asked to hold questions until the end – though this doesn’t mean everyone will do so! The Times article mentioned that “several universities have instituted rules meant to cut down on bad behavior, such as banning questions for the first 10 or 15 minutes of a talk so that speakers [economists] can get through at least the beginning of their presentations uninterrupted.”

Continue speaking. If you do so, the person trying to interrupt you often will stop talking. You may need to raise your volume a little to make sure the person hears you, but don’t shout.

Ask yourself: Are you making it easy for people to interrupt you?  Don’t underestimate the power of your nonverbal communication skills. Appear assertive – keep your body language open, and don’t cross your arms. Look at the audience. When you avoid looking at your audience, some members may feel emboldened to interrupt. Make sure you don’t move back when interrupted – it can make you appear fearful. Move towards audience members when you can. Check your rate of speech: Are you speaking too slowly, which allows others to jump in? Check your volume: Are you speaking loudly enough to have what you say come across authoritatively?

Defer answering, if the answer to the question will be explained later in your talk. Often, you can say, “I am going to hold off answering that question as I will be discussing that topic in a few minutes.” Of course, if the CEO asked the question, you may want to answer it right away!

Don’t be a puppet on your audience’s string. If the audience is shouting questions at you, make sure you repeat the question you are about to answer. If you don’t, you are being controlled by the audience as you try to field one question after another. When you take the time to repeat the question, you gain control – you decide which questions to address, and in what order. 

After you have answered someone’s question, do not ask, “Did that answer your question?” You could be setting yourself up, as the person may respond, “No.” And then what do you do? If the questioner wants more information, he or she will let you know – or seek you out later.

Additional information on how to make powerful presentations can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.    

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, professional presence, and presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com for more information. (www.pachter.com) 

 

60 Seconds to Better Emails

I don’t have time to write well.
 

Do you realize how many emails I get a day!

I often have to send a second email to clarify my first message. It’s aggravating.

The comments above, expressed by participants in my writing classes, are fairly common. Many people seem frustrated and complain that they don’t have time to write clearly and professionally. 

No one is perfect, and anyone can make a mistake occasionally, but if you make mistakes frequently, or have a number of them in any one email, your professional standing is likely to suffer, and the consequences could be serious.

Following the three suggestions below will add only seconds to each email, but will help to ensure that you don’t make careless mistakes. This is not a lot of time to invest to enhance your writing – and your reputation.

• Read your documents out loud. And read slow-ly, otherwise you are reading what’s in your head, not what’s on the screen. You are now more likely to notice any missing words, wrong words, misspellings, and wrong tenses of verbs. You will also hear the tone of your message. If the wording sounds harsh to you, it will sound harsh to the reader.

 â€¢ Remember my acronym AIL. AIL stands for Address In Last. This tip will ensure that you don’t accidentally email someone before you have finished writing and proofing the message. You can’t send an email without an address. Even when you are replying to a message, it’s a good precaution to delete the recipient’s address, and re-insert it only when you are sure the message is ready to be sent.

 â€¢ Double-check the spelling of the person’s name. Many people are insulted if their name is misspelled. And if you offend someone in the first line, they may not read any further. Check for the correct spelling in the person’s signature block, if there is one. Copy and paste the name to make sure you are spelling it correctly. If you are initiating the email, the last thing to do before you hit the send button is to check the “To:” line. People’s first and/or last names are often in their addresses, which allows you to check the spelling of the person’s name against what you wrote in the salutation.  (Additional suggestions about salutations can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic.)

Of course, there is a lot more you can do to improve your writings. But these recommendations alone will catch many of your errors. Isn’t your reputation worth those few moments?

I post regularly on communication and etiquette.  We can connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and my website: www.pachter.com

About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally-renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.