Quick Summary: Effective workplace communication calls for clarity and brevity, not jargon and corporate-speak. Are you guilty of making your words too hard to understand? Use these tips for cutting out the clutter in your writing.
Effective workplace communication calls for clarity and brevity, not jargon and corporate-speak. The health care benefits world is known for using hard-to-understand terminology (such as EOB, HMO, PPO, copayments, deductibles and much more). But patients—your employees—want things to be simple.
So does the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed a bill in April 2008 that would require the use of plain language—words the reader can understand easily the first time—in any new or revised document that explains how to obtain a benefit or service or to pay taxes. This includes letters, publications, forms, notices, and instructions.
The bill is part of an overall movement to arm the public with easy-to-understand information, so they can make important choices more confidently.
Clutter is the enemy
Clutter is a tool used by organizations to shroud shortcomings and mistakes. An Air Force missile doesn’t “crash”; it “impacts the ground prematurely.” A company doesn’t go “belly-up”; it has “a sustained negative cash-flow position.”
Do you find yourself disguising bad news? Or get stuck trying to explain difficult concepts about insurance or health care coverage?
When communicating with employees, treat clutter as if it’s your enemy. The basic rule: Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things you can nix and still retain meaning. Before presenting health, wellness and benefit information, examine each word you put on paper (or on screen) prior to printing (or hitting “send”), and you’ll find a surprising number of words that don’t serve any purpose.
Tape these tips next to your computer
Chances are, you’ve honed your self-editing processes and understand familiar writing rules (write in active voice, for example) when crafting communications. But here’s a checklist that can further help. Keep it handy, and there’s a good chance your important information will be clearer when employees read it:
• Simplify. Turn “with the possible exception of” into “except.” Replace “due to the fact that” with “because.” “We are an organization that” can be cut to “We.”
• Replace a longer word with a shorter one if they mean the same thing. Instead of “assistance,” use “help.” Change “numerous” to “many,” and “implement” to “do.” Don’t “dialogue” with someone you can “talk” to.
• Delete word clusters that explain how you propose to go about explaining something. Examples include “I might add,” “It should be pointed out that,” and “It is interesting to note.” (If it should be pointed out, just point it out.)
• When possible, put statements in positive form. Here’s an example: “We didn’t make that decision” is better than “We are currently in the position to take that course of action.”
Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Express thoughts with economy. Simplify, simplify. Your employees will notice the difference.
• Say it. Simply. Cut out words you don’t need.
• Before releasing a document, brochure or benefits communication piece, ask typical employees to read it. Ask them if they understand what you are saying.
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