Simply Said
Simply Said
Simply Said is the essential handbook for business communication.

Writing Skills

What are the do's and don'ts of e-mail writing?

- include a meaningful subject line
- use short paragraphs, headings, and bullets
- offer clear next steps
- use proper grammar, spelling, capitalization, & punctuation
- spell check & proofread
- send e-mail only to those who really need to receive it (avoid information overload)
- check your e-mail tone

- give negative feedback in an e-mail
- ignore the chain of command by e-mailing your boss' boss if inappropriate
- curse or use vulgar language
- send gossipy e-mails, cutesy visuals, or chain letters

What is the standard length of an e-mail?

It varies. Most e-mails should be approximately one screen at the most. Also, keep your paragraphs very short.

Should I use bold or italics in my e-mails or memos?

It's fine to use bold and italics in e-mails and memos as long as you do not overuse them.

How do I organize a negative letter or e-mail?

A format that works well is:
- message
- background
- expand message
- end quickly

To soften your tone, use:
- more passive verbs
- fewer personal pronouns

How do I organize a proposal?

Here's a format that many of our clients like and use:
- subject
- table of contents
- background
- benefits
- specific action
- administration
- investment
- next steps

Communicating for Better Results

How can I open others to my point of view?

Most people will be more receptive to listening to and understanding your point of view when you've shown them you've listened to and understood their point of view. Step one, then, is to listen to others first. You may choose to use reflective listening techniques so they know they've been heard. You should then share your (perhaps different) viewpoint in a non-judgmental way. You don't have to make them wrong to make you right.

How do I work with different personality styles?

First, understand your own communication style strengths and challenges. Why do you communicate the way you do? Next, learn how to identify the styles of others, and how to flex your style to meet the needs of others who may be very different from you. Ultimately, you get what you want by giving other people what they need.

How can I more effectively manage subordinate relationships?

Managers can do many different things to effectively manage relationships with their staff. Here are a few ideas:

  • Try to identify the communication style of each if your employees, and flex your style to work more effectively with each person.
  • Pay attention to the talk-listen ratio when you meet with your staff. Do you talk more than you listen? Ideally, you should listen more than you talk. Let your employees speak. You'll be amazed at how much it can improve your relationship with your staff.
  • Work collaboratively with your employees to resolve problem issues. Just because you say there's a problem doesn't mean your employees agree with you and feel motivated to change.

How do you deal with an angry boss/employee/co-worker?

If a boss, employee or co-worker is angry, you should first try to understand what's bothering them. You can begin by asking open-ended questions to uncover their perspective. You can also empathize by acknowledging the emotion and relating to them as best you can.

How do I deal with a controlling or negative individual?

You can start by showing the person you want to understand him or her. You may want to ask many questions to show your interest in his or her perspective. Often, controlling and negative types simply want to be heard. Perhaps you are the only person in the world who truly listens to them. They'll be much more receptive to working with you when they feel they've been heard.

How do you give performance feedback?

First, start by planning for the meeting. Most managers don't spend enough time on this step. During the meeting start with light conversation to try to relax the person (and yourself!). Then, start by reviewing the positives - what that person does well. Then you can move into the opportunities for improvement and - together - discuss specific things the person can do to improve his or her performance going forward. End on a positive note.

Conducting and Participating in Meetings

When during a meeting should I bring up an important topic that requires discussion?

Ideally, you want to place an important issue that will generate discussion after topics that are straightforward. In this way, the group accomplishes some business first and avoids focusing all its attention on only one topic.

When should I publish an agenda?

Publish your agenda in advance - ideally, the day before the meeting. Allow staff time to prepare for the meeting, to complete tasks, and, if appropriate, to prepare to present results.

What items should I include in my meeting agenda?

An agenda is important and should ideally be distributed prior to the meeting. Your agenda should include items in three main areas:

  • Action Report
    List topics that are "in process", such as follow up items from a previous meeting or discussion. In your agenda, include the names of the people or departments who will comment on these topics at the meeting. In this way, these people know to come prepared
  • New Topics
    List new topics. You may also want to include the names of people who will lead the discussion for each topic. The meeting leader does not necessarily have to lead every topic at the meeting. In this section, you might also want to include a topic called "other topics", so people can bring up anything else they'd like to discuss.
  • Next Meeting
    Publish this date on the pre-meeting agenda.  Although this date may be tentative, it will remind you to set a date for a follow up meeting, and to see if people can make it to the date you've proposed.
  • Optional
    To acknowledge the hard work of others, you may want to include a formal mechanism for people to thank others in the meeting. You can put it on the agenda, and perhaps call it Applause! Applause!

How do I involve others in a meeting, especially quiet people?

As a leader, it's your job to involve everyone at the meeting. You can relay topics to other staff members to discuss. You can also open topics to the group before offering your own opinion. You can ask quieter people open-ended questions to encourage them to share their thoughts.

Who should take minutes during a meeting?

In the ideal world, the meeting leader should enlist someone else to take detailed notes during the meeting. In this way, the meeting leader can focus his or her energies on managing the group dynamics, soliciting input from others, and keeping the meeting on track. If someone else takes notes, the meeting leader will still end up with an accurate record of meeting discussions.

How do I get a meeting back on track if someone goes off on a tangent?

As a meeting leader, you should summarize periodically. After gathering different people's perspectives, you might say something like: "These seem to be the key ideas expressed." "I think what we have agreed to thus far is...". Summarizing is a useful technique that helps group members feel involved in the process.

You can also use this summarizing technique to help get a discussion back on track. If someone goes off on a tangent, you can say the person's name, summarize their concern and tie it back to the main topic. If appropriate, you can invite the person to meet with you after the meeting to discuss his or her concern in more detail.

How can I enhance my professional presence in a meeting?

Whether you are leading the meeting or are an attendee, you want to come across as an active participant with a strong professional presence. Here are a few things you can do to enhance your credibility, show concern, and build trust in meetings:

  • Look at people in the eyes when you speak and as others speak to you
  • Sit straight, and lean slightly forward
  • Keep your hands apart, and gesture naturally
  • Rest your forearms on the table when you're not gesturing
  • Nod and periodically take notes when others are speaking to show you are listening
  • Ask questions and offer opinions

Leadership Skills and Delegating

When should I give my staff feedback on the work they do for me?

To some extent, it depends on the nature of the person doing the work. If the person is working on a project, you should ideally offer feedback at the midpoint and at the end of the project. You want to praise the person's successes and efforts, yet you should also address areas of disappointment or concern. Keep your discussion of the issues specific and objective. Also, give less experienced people more feedback to build their confidence.

What really motivates people at work?

The answer differs for each person. The challenge for managers is to find the answer for each of his or her employees. Although most employees require that you meet a minimum threshold for the "basics" such as salary, benefits, and office space, the true motivators are most often things like achievement, recognition, and independence.

When delegating work, what are the mistakes people typically make?

A strong delegate describes the assignment clearly, puts it in perspective for the employee and helps the employee see personal benefits for getting involved. Many managers forget to consider the value proposition for the employee. What will he or she get out of the experience? Positioning the assignment in this way can help the employee feel motivated about completing the assignment, and doing it well.

I was just promoted and I'm now managing my former peers. What do I do?

You've probably built strong relationships during your tenure and you don't want to damage those relationships now. Yet it's more important to be fair than to be liked. We suggest you consider each person's competencies and supervise accordingly. Thus you'll be more involved when someone is learning a new skill, and you'll begin to let go as that person becomes more proficient. The more flexible your management style, the more you will connect with your former peers.

How do I handle pushback when I give negative feedback?

Many people become defensive when receiving constructive criticism. Resist the urge to react in turn. To ensure a productive feedback meeting, you should give timely feedback, share concrete examples, and listen well. When you listen, nod slowly, use encouraging phrases, and respond in a low tone. These techniques will show your employees you care about them, and want to help them succeed.

I embarrassed my colleague when I publicly praised her at a big meeting. What did I do wrong?

When you want to motivate with praise, always consider the individual. Some people love the attention of a public announcement; others would rather crawl under a table. Just because you might like the attention does not mean all your employees feel the same way. A firm handshake and a heartfelt thank you may work better for someone who'd rather stay out of the spotlight.

Selling Skills

What do I do if I keep on getting voicemail when trying to reach a prospect?

Ideally, you want to avoid leaving a voicemail message if possible. You can try calling at different times, or getting to your prospect through his or her assistant. If you must leave a voicemail, we suggest you prepare a high impact "commercial" - it should be 30 seconds at most. You should:

  • State your name and phone number
  • Include a tease
  • Give specific times to call back
  • Restate your phone number
  • Say that you will call again

Do you have any helpful closing techniques?

The secret is in knowing when to close.  Don’t over talk.  You may want to take the temperature by using trial closes such as “if” statements.   Other closing options include:

  • The minor point close
  • Alternative proposal close
  • Impending doom
  • Option close
  • Action close
  • Schedule another meeting

How should I handle objections?

Recognize that objections are opportunities, and should be treated as such. When you receive an objection from a client or prospect:

  • acknowledge the objection
  • empathize
  • offer your solution and tie it back to benefits for the client

How can I uncover what's really important to my client or prospect?

Start by asking many open-ended questions. Your questions should begin with words like what, how and why. These types of questions will encourage your client or prospect to give you information. After asking some broad open-ended questions, drill down and start asking more specific open-ended questions to learn what's really important to the client. You will uncover more information if you focus on one line of questions at a time, rather than by continuing to ask a series of unrelated questions.

Negotiation Skills

What do I do if the other person has more power than me?

You have more power than you think. Power can be expressed in the form of time, information, personal and social power (TIPS). To prepare for the negotiation, you should assess the specific forms of power that the other side possesses and recognize your own personal power. You may also want to slow down the negotiation process by taking breaks or holding a caucus if you feel pressured.

What should I do if the negotiation turns hostile?

You want to remain calm because your emotions can escalate the hostility and also impact your judgment. Also, you want to discern whether the other party's hostility is simply a ploy, or staged act, to help gain an unfair advantage. If it is a ploy, you should acknowledge their emotion, restate your position, and return to the topic you are discussing. You should also feel comfortable withdrawing from the negotiation stating that you will only negotiate when you're treated with respect.

How do I get my customer or client to negotiate beyond price?

You want to understand your product or service and recognize the currencies, or bargaining chips, with which you can negotiate. It also helps to understand your competition and know what they can or can't offer. You want to probe to uncover what's important to your client beyond price. You can demonstrate value to your client by offering specific currencies that are important to them, thus increasing your value proposition.

Interviewing Skills for the Interviewer

How do you compare candidates when their resumes are so different?

To help you compare "apples to apples" Exec|Comm suggests you select three skills any candidate must possess to succeed in the job you seek to fill. Look for evidence of those three skills with each resume you review.

How long should a thorough interview take?

You can conduct an effective interview in 30 minutes or a maximum of 60 minutes. Here's how you should manage your time:

30 minute interview

  • Greet and set tone (2-3 minutes)
  • Probe for three skills (20 minutes)
  • Give information & market firm (5-7 minutes)
  • Identify next steps (1 minute)

60 minute interview

  • Greet and set tone (5 minutes)
  • Probe for three skills (40 minutes)
  • Give information & market firm (5-10 minutes)
  • Identify next steps (2-5 minute)

What are the qualities of an ideal candidate?

The ideal candidate must be willing to do the job, able to do the job and a match to your organization's culture. If you find a candidate who is able to the job, but not willing or interested, the candidate may accept the position, but is likely to leave sooner. If the able candidate fails to blend into you current culture, the candidate will lose motivation, feel disconnected to colleagues and leave sooner, or remain begrudgingly.

Interviewing Skills for the Interviewee

What is the biggest mistake candidates make when being interviewed?

Candidates who interview poorly are likely to over talk or under talk. Come prepared to talk concisely and energetically about two or three strong skills you bring to the position.

Answer the interview questions in three to four sentences and offer concrete examples and anecdotes. Avoid speaking in broad generalities.

I'm quite shy. How do I manage shyness during an interview?

You don't have to be an extrovert to land a job but you do need to project confidence. To display confidence:

  • Maintain direct eye contact.
  • Sit up squarely and lean slightly forward, not back.
  • If you speak in a quiet voice, add a little vocal punch to a few words in each sentence. (You will seem much more animated.)

What kind of questions should I ask during the interview?

Good questions are important to help you assess whether the job is right for you. Prepare a number of open ended questions before your interview. Open questions begin with what, how and why.

Media Skills

Can you say "no comment" to a reporter?

We wouldn't suggest it. No comment is a very strong comment and is often perceived as negative. The reporter and readers or viewers may think you're trying to hide something. Having said that, do not feel obligated to respond to a question about something confidential or off-limits. You might choose instead to say something like: "As you know, we are in ongoing legal discussions. You asked an important question, however, for legal reasons I cannot presently respond. I'll be glad to discuss the results with you as soon as we can."

Where should I look during a media interview?

If a reporter is interviewing you face-to-face, you should look at the reporter. If it's a televised "through the lens" interview - with the reporter at a different location, and a camera in your face - then you should look into the camera to your viewers. You may want to pretend that someone you know is in the lens, and talk to that "person".

How can I prevent reporters from misquoting me?

If you were misquoted, you may have spoken too quickly or perhaps your answers were too long-worded. During any print interview, speak slowly and lead with your conclusion or message. Answer the question in two to three simply constructed sentences.

What do I do if I'm misquoted?

If a reporter misquotes you during the interview, politely correct the reporter without coming across as defensive. You might say something like, "I'm sorry, that's incorrect. Please allow me to clarify..." and then offer your correction.

What if I don't like how I answered a question?

If your interview is being recorded, you can pause and let the reporter know that you feel your answer was inadequate. Explain that you'd like to take it again. Do not abuse this practice, but a fair reporter will give you a "second take."

How do I use a teleprompter?

Before the event:

  • Read your script silently 3 times; imagine yourself saying the words with expression.
  • Dissect the script. Put one slash after each natural pause, and two slashes after each complete pause. Underline key words for emphasis.
  • Read the script aloud several times for comfort & naturalness, conversational manner, gestures.

At the event:

  • Read the first two lines before the scroll moves. Then, always read from the middle of the screen. You lead the pace - the operator will follow you.
  • Stand erect - 18" from the lectern.
  • Inhale - visually see 2 lines.
  • Exhale - speak those 2 lines.
  • Periodically change head position.

Should I stand behind the lectern or center stage?

It depends. If you have notes on the lectern or slides on your laptop, you may need to stay behind the lectern to access your information. Yet most people present more dynamically when they step away from the lectern to center stage. You may choose to stand at center stage to tell a story. You might also choose to speak from bullet notes and stay at center stage the whole time. Make sure to have a lavaliere microphone if you do that, or your audience might not hear you. If you use projected content, remember to never stand in front of it, or where you are likely to block someone's view.

How many messages should I prepare for an interview?

We recommend that you prepare one key message for any interview. Your message should be ten words or less in length and you should be able to support your message with anecdotes and examples.

Do reporters purposefully try to trip you up during an interview?

Good reporters want good stories. They need interesting, newsworthy content. If you answer with noteworthy content, a compelling message and interesting stories, you are giving the reporter what he or she needs.