Friday, June 28, 2013
You can probably read and understand the title of this post, but that doesn’t make it right…
I currently belong to a number of online professional forum groups; and I’m active in the groups, so I see many posts from persons with lots of letters after their names including those denoting professional certifications and Masters Degrees and Doctorates. Yet I continue to be amazed at the quality of communication from many persons who share their thoughts in these posts because, with all due respect, the quality of the written words frequently is not commensurate with what I expect from professionals. Spelling errors (which can largely be avoided with Spell Check), grammatical usage errors, use of incorrect words and terms (“then” for “than,” “there” for “their” or “they’re,” etc.), poor (if any) punctuation, etc. etc. seem to be the norm rather than the exception.
So why is this important, you ask? This is only going to be seen by others on the forum, you say? Maybe!! But I have a hard time believing that the same people who cannot write a coherent sentence to fellow practitioners and professionals take the time and make the effort to do any better when they’re writing “official” documents, reports and memos. And how do we know that the very people who we should be trying to impress – like bosses, clients, professional adversaries, etc. – aren’t also reading what we write?
Habits are difficult to break, especially when it comes to speaking and writing. If someone is used to using colorful, vulgar language in everyday speech, sooner or later one of those colorful terms is going to slip out at exactly the wrong moment – like when having a conversation with a corporate executive or a client. If someone is used to writing careless and sloppy postings on a forum (like texting “shorthand”), sooner or later that same level and quality of writing is going to be used in a document being read by a company president or local District Attorney or Judge. Based on some of the posts on these forums, it’s sometimes difficult to get to and appreciate the content of a post because of all the distractions from poor format. And yes, I realize that many professionals have someone else to do their formal writing. But professionals do – or should – proofread any work done on their behalf, which is hard to do if the professional himself is lax in writing skills (it’s hard to find errors when reading if you can’t write any better yourself). And even those professionals with assistants to do most of their writing occasionally write for themselves (like in these forums) and the deficiencies become glaring.
And one other reason why this is important: Professionals are frequently judged on first impressions, and first impressions are frequently made based on what we say or on something we’ve written. If we communicate well, our actions may not be scrutinized as closely because we will be perceived as intelligent, knowledgeable people. But if we communicate poorly, our actions – even the good ones – can be diminished because of what we have said or written. The quality of communication – either verbal or written – is just as important as the content. And with the proliferation of online forums where everything everyone writes is preserved for posterity, it becomes a simple matter for anyone – like an opposing attorney – to dig up a file full of posted faux pas in an attempt to disparage professionalism and credibility (an avoidable problem, thus inexcusable).
One of the best compliments I have ever received during my tenure as a Director of Security was being told by a District Attorney that the reports written by my security personnel were far superior to those written by the local police. I have seen cases lost because of poor communication (documentation). But in 30+ years, neither I nor my staff have ever lost a case for that reason.
Meant as constructive criticism, and to generate thought…