Words at Work by Kathy McIntosh: A communication checkup offers preventive word care

KATHY McINTOSH, Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.May 14, 2013 

Kathy McIntosh

We use a lot of words in our lives. At times they are misused, even abused. Just as we may not give our bodies the respect and good treatment they deserve and need to help us function at our best, we can become lazy with our words. The idea of an occasional checkup to verify that our words are being put to their best use possible may instill fear in some of us.

Don't let me make you nervous. Take a deep breath and relax. Trust me; this won't hurt.

Consider our review preventive medicine for your business communication. Note that I wrote, preventive, not preventative. If you're using the word preventative, with that superfluous syllable, it is a first indicator of communication malaise. Malaise comes from French and means a lack of health often indicative of or accompanying the onset of illness. Poor word choices may be a symptom of bigger, underlying issues - systemic problems in communication.

Let's first look at the broad picture, that first impression as you and your words stride into view. Is there enough white space? Variety in the length of your sentences and your paragraphs? Has every single communication been proofread at least once? Are important messages such as customer letters and print ads triple-checked for errors?

Is your communication focused on the right people? Do you know your market? Are you communicating with current customers as well as prospects? Do you keep your employees informed, or do they read about your company in the Idaho Statesman?

Even more basic, do you and your employees understand your message and your mission? Are your objectives stated clearly and in as few words as possible, so all of you know where you're going?

Check your balance, as well. Maintaining the appropriate mix of internal communications and public relations communications along with advertising in varied media, and making use of social media, will keep your communications balanced and fit. Companies that rely too heavily on one method of communication may find that method cannot hold the weight. It might suffer a strain or even fracture under the imbalance.

Even though my analogy threatens to fall victim to the same fate, let's keep on with the checkup.

Always consider the temperature of your communications, particularly when it comes to emails or voice messages. What you consider well within normal range in terms of humor or concern may be interpreted by others as nearing emergency status. A lot is lost when words are not delivered in person.

Let's look next at two critical and under-used organs: eyes and ears. Are you listening to your employees and your customers? Are you tracking results, monitoring the impact of your words and your communication efforts?

Have you experienced any sudden, unexpected changes in your communication? A drop in website visitors or Facebook page views might be due to technical problems or to the need for a freshening-up. If you're considering a facelift for your social media sites, be sure you weigh the cost against the potential benefits.

I can't let you leave the office without reminding you that we're in the midst of an obesity crisis in America. Let's not let our words be part of the problem. Taut sentences, strong, muscular verbs and crisp nouns make for tasty, well-balanced communication.



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