The courage to change

This month I received an email from a reader who had seen a profile of me in a magazine, telling the story of how I went from being a psychology student to becoming a writing coach.

She had recently been widowed which, of course, is a huge life change. And after reading my article, she shared how she was now inspired to ‘just write her own story.’ “Your article is an inspiration,” she wrote. “You’ve given me hope that perhaps there are other opportunities out there… I just need some of your courage in going out and grabbing them.”

After reading her heartfelt email, I started thinking about courage and its relation to change. So many of us want to make changes at work and in our lives, but we don’t feel we have the power to do so.

Unless you’re the boss, it can feel like you never quite able to fly. The secret is to change your behaviour, little by little. And one of the things you have total control over is the way you write, and how you use writing to interact with others.

So, are you fed up of reading ‘thought dumps’ from your colleagues? Then, write an email suggesting a better way to communicate. Do you want to change the way your performance is appraised? Write a proposal suggesting a solution that is a win-win for you and your manager. By having the courage to make small personal changes at work, you develop the courage to make larger ones later on.

Here are five tips for how to use writing to help you make positive changes at work.

One: The courage to connect

Whatever industry you’re in, it’s important to think of yourself as being in the ‘people-business’. Your colleagues, clients and customers want to work with people they know, like and trust. Whatever it is you’re writing – even if it’s the minutes from yesterday’s meeting – aim to brand yourself as a reliable source of insightful information. Keep doing this and you’ll become increasingly known, liked and trusted.

Two: Grab attention

Studies have shown that we adopt a ‘search and seize’ approach when looking for information online. In fact, only one in six people actually read websites sentence by sentence. Instead, most people scan the text for keywords, bullet points and subheadings. With the internet now so prevalent in our lives that behaviour has extended to pretty much all our reading behaviour, with experts saying that people’s brains are literally now being re-wired to have a short attention span. So, make the assumption that you only have seven seconds to catch your readers’ attention.

Three: Start strong

Don’t just begin a document: craft an opening that is a question, story or surprising statement. You could also use a quote; relay something you’ve read in a newspaper or create an analogy that you think will connect with your readers. This is important whether you’re writing an email, people or reporting the quarter’s financial results.

Four: Package your message

The old adage: it’s not what you say, but how you say it is true in business writing. So, think carefully about your titles and email subject boxes. Keep in mind your reason for writing, but also write with the needs of the reader in mind.

Five: Guide your reader to action

If you want people to take action, create steps and systems for them to follow. You can also do this when explaining a process or the actions you will take next. Creating three, five or seven steps helps people to feel at ease, and gives them the sense that you have things figured out.

Finally, keep connected with your readers by asking ‘so what?’, every time you write something. For example, if you’re reporting results, don’t just present a ‘number dump’. You can’t assume that the person reading it will understand the benefit or value of the information you’re giving them. Ask: ‘What does this data or information really mean?’

At the heart of it all, it’s about developing the courage to present you and your work in a well thought-out, lively and likeable way. And by doing so, you can create a virtuous circle that gives you greater, and greater courage to change the things that really matter.

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