Wednesday - January 03, 2018

Don’t Let a Communication Blunder Hurt Your Career

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Don’t Let a Communication Blunder Hurt Your Career

Have you ever had to recall an email, issue corrections to a previous document or made a communication blunder that left you feeling a little embarrassed for not having caught the error? It happens and can even hurt your career.

Communication Fail

Not all communication errors can be undone

Many people get so close to their work they no longer see the details. Often something seemingly obvious is overlooked because although your eyes see the words, your mind skips over them because it already knows what the words say or mean. Here’s a real-world case in point.

When I worked for a technology provider one of the executives included me on an email asking recipients to review the announcement of a customer program for a new service initiative. I finally had time to look at it over lunch at my desk. I opened the email and read the first sentence. I couldn’t believe my eyes and concluded I must have read it wrong. I looked again. Then again. Nope, I read it correctly. I ran up the stairs to the exec’s office, stopping on the way to tell his admin to NOT launch the announcement under any circumstances. I interrupted the meeting in his office only to receive a barrage of angry words and reasons why my review was too late and couldn’t rival the 12 people who already had reviewed and approved it.

I couldn’t get a word in with all of his blustering. Desperately, I wrote the name of the new service program vertically on his blank whiteboard – one word on each line – then I circled the letters that began every line. I turned to the executive and asked him if he really wanted to launch the program today. He stared at the white board slack-jawed remembering that 12 people – very smart business and technology experts – had been working with this program title for three months and never saw what I saw in seconds.

Want to know the problem? This new service initiative was to be sent to every single one of our massive database of corporate customers and also to all contacts at our vendor partners like HP, Microsoft, IBM and more. The new service program title spelled C.R.A.P. I will not divulge the rest of the tale as it is laced with profanity that would make a sailor blush.

This is a classic case of people not understanding human nature and not viewing their communications as their audience will perceive them. It happens all the time.

By nature, we shorten titles into acronyms – especially in the age of texting and social media. Why type 45 characters when four will do? The lesson here is that all 12 of these folks stopped seeing the obvious and would have launched a communication blunder that would have made this company the laughing stock of the industry.

Now for the real question – how do you avoid this type of professional gaffe?

There are several steps you can take, by themselves or all of them together, to create a safeguard.

  1. As in this example, have someone unfamiliar with the program read the correspondence. Even better, make sure it is a marketer, writer or editor trained to look for these things.
  2. Put yourself in the place of the reader. Realize that what you have written is new to them and try to see it through their eyes.
  3. Realize that most people will shorten lengthy titles into an acronym. Read your title in that way to avoid spelling out…umm, crap.
  4. Read your document critically, word for word, sentence for sentence. Often things that need to be changed will jump out at you.

If these steps seem unnecessary or unimportant, consider what would happen to your career path if you were responsible for launching a milestone customer service initiative for your company that spelled C.R.A.P.