Writing that is clear and has value to the reader should be your goal most of the time. Meeting this goal becomes even more important during times of change and transition when people can be feeling uncertain or confused. Communicating poorly or insincerely during a transition can create a sense of mistrust and scepticism that can directly impact on how well your transition is delivered or received.
In this article we’ll look at three ideas you can use to write about changes and transitions with clarity and value:
● Be direct—don’t hedge or use the passive
● Use plain language
● Actually answer questions
Be direct—don’t hedge or use the passive
Hedging (also known as vague or tentative language) is a way to soften a sentence so you are being less absolute. Hedging language includes words like might, maybe, possibly, and could. Hedging is useful when you genuinely don’t know something with certainty, but it is unhelpful when it is used to be vague about something that is actually known and certain.
Hedge: It is possible-to-likely that some part-time staff might see some decrease in their base hours.
Direct: Part-time staff contracted after April 2021 will have their base hours cut by 10%.
The passive voice is a sentence construction that allows you to avoid saying who is the ‘do-er’ of an action. For example, The window was broken. Who broke the window? The sentence doesn’t say.
During a period of change, knowing who does or will do something is very important.
Passive: New team structures will be decided. (By whom?)
Direct: Existing team leaders will decide the new team structures.
Use plain language
Plain language writing is written with understanding and readability in mind. It is characterised by short sentences and paragraphs, everyday vocabulary, and a lack of jargon and complex structures.
Using non-plain language excludes people — as your messages are only accessible to those with the time, patience, and reading level to interpret what you are saying. Excluding people from communication about a change or transition is unlikely to build consensus, cooperation, or camaraderie.
Unhelpful: An unspecified number of individuals have expressed various concerns regarding the optimal human resource capacity needs going forward and how these might affect existing contractual relationships. Below, I detail my written response…
Plain: Some people have said they are worried about staff contracts ending. I’d like to let you know…
Actually answer questions
During times of change you will often ask for input, feedback or questions. When questions come up, answer them with a tailored response, avoiding anything generic or vague. However nicely written your generic words are, people notice when you don’t actually answer the question.
When you don't actually answer a question, people often imagine the worst. Don’t let your unclear writing raise people’s suspicions!
Question: How will the leadership changes affect our day-to-day work?
Avoided: Change, whether in leadership, location, or approach, is an exciting time for everyone involved. It is a chance to drop old bad habits and bring in fresh ideas and energy.
Answered: Your day-to-day tasks will remain the same. However, what you will see is a new focus on how you complete those tasks — we're going to be instilling greater personal responsibility for delivering quality.