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Are you an elaborator?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014 | By Linnet Hunter

I received a short email last week asking me about a quote for some work. At least I think that is what it was about. I read it. I read it again. I read it a third time and took notes.


I distilled what I thought could be some different things the writer of the email might want and I crafted a return email asking for clarification on three numbered points.


The answer came back.


Good questions. I will think them over.


The problem here was one I have experienced many times. The elaborator was at work. And there’s one inside most of us.


The times when we include every irrelevant detail because it makes us look important, or the times when we give all the unnecessary background about how hard we are working or how a conversation round the water cooler led to this request.


The elaborator style of communication occurs when the writer isn’t really clear about what they want and so they include everything, in the hope that something may be useful. It’s a bit like firing 20 arrows into the air and hoping that one of them may fall onto the target. It’s possible. But unlikely.


In addition, this is a productivity issue. Think how much time it takes the reader to try to figure out what is going on. Then three or four more emails and phone calls and so on to try to reach clarity. It can be hours of wasted time.


This issue affects all of us as solo operators because we are the Communications Team for our business, and writing clearly matters more now than it has in the past. Technology has increased, rather than decreased our dependency on being able to make ourselves understood in writing, especially in emails.


The key to moving from being an elaborator to a leader in your writing is to focus on two things – the reader and the outcome you want.


Before you write, think about how busy your reader is and how you can save them time by being crisp and clear in what you are asking for. Consider what your reader needs to know that will help them carry out your request or answer your query.


Secondly, think about the outcome you want, in terms of action. Ask yourself, what do I want to happen as a result of my email?


Of course, writing is in itself an action, but it is also the starting point for physical actions to match the words.


Do you need a quote? An answer? A meeting? And when do you want it by? And to what standard? Can you send over the stuff about the Simpson’s project cause we are a bit short on details over here, isn’t going to get you what you want. Especially if the Simpson Project has an archive file 10GB deep.


Reflect before you write. Your message will hit its target and your reader will be happy to oblige you.