Think of how often you communicate with people during your day.
You write emails, facilitate meetings, participate in conference calls, create reports, devise presentations, debate with your colleagues… the list goes on.
We can spend almost our entire day communicating. So, how can we provide a huge boost to our productivity? We can make sure that we communicate in the clearest, most effective way possible.
This is why the 7 Cs of Communication are helpful. The 7 Cs provide a checklist for making sure that your meetings, emails, conference calls, reports, and presentations are well constructed and clear – so your audience gets your message.
According to the 7 Cs, communication needs to be:
In this article and in the video, below, we'll look at each of the 7 Cs of Communication, and illustrate each element with both good and bad examples.
Watch this video to discover more about how to use the 7 Cs to communicate more effectively.
When writing or speaking to someone, be clear about your goal or message. What is your purpose in communicating with this person? If you're not sure, then your audience won't be sure either.
To be clear, try to minimize the number of ideas in each sentence. Make sure that it's easy for your reader to understand your meaning. People shouldn't have to "read between the lines" and make assumptions on their own to understand what you're trying to say.
I wanted to write you a quick note about Daniel, who's working in your department. He's a great asset, and I'd like to talk to you more about him when you have time.
What is this email about? Well, we're not sure. First, if there are multiple Daniels in John's department, John won't know who Skip is talking about.
Next, what is Daniel doing, specifically, that's so great? We don't know that either. It's so vague that John will definitely have to write back for more information.
Last, what is the purpose of this email? Does Skip simply want to have an idle chat about Daniel, or is there some more specific goal here? There's no sense of purpose to this message, so it's a bit confusing.
I wanted to write you a quick note about Daniel Kedar, who's working in your department. In recent weeks, he's helped the IT department through several pressing deadlines on his own time.
We've got a tough upgrade project due to run over the next three months, and his knowledge and skills would prove invaluable. Could we please have his help with this work?
I'd appreciate speaking with you about this. When is it best to call you to discuss this further?
This second message is much clearer, because the reader has the information he needs to take action.
When you're concise in your communication, you stick to the point and keep it brief. Your audience doesn't want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three.
- Are there any adjectives or "filler words" that you can delete? You can often eliminate words like "for instance," "you see," "definitely," "kind of," "literally," "basically," or "I mean."
- Are there any unnecessary sentences?
- Have you repeated the point several times, in different ways?
I wanted to touch base with you about the email marketing campaign we kind of sketched out last Thursday. I really think that our target market is definitely going to want to see the company's philanthropic efforts. I think that could make a big impact, and it would stay in their minds longer than a sales pitch.
For instance, if we talk about the company's efforts to become sustainable, as well as the charity work we're doing in local schools, then the people that we want to attract are going to remember our message longer. The impact will just be greater.
What do you think?
This email is too long! There's repetition, and there's plenty of "filler" taking up space.
Watch what happens when we're concise and take out the filler words:
I wanted to quickly discuss the email marketing campaign that we analyzed last Thursday. Our target market will want to know about the company's philanthropic efforts, especially our goals to become sustainable and help local schools.
This would make a far greater impact, and it would stay in their minds longer than a traditional sales pitch.
What do you think?
When your message is concrete, then your audience has a clear picture of what you're telling them. There are details (but not too many!) and vivid facts, and there's laser-like focus. Your message is solid.
Consider this advertising copy:
The Lunchbox Wizard will save you time every day.
A statement like this probably won't sell many of these products. There's no passion, no vivid detail, nothing that creates emotion, and nothing that tells people in the audience why they should care. This message isn't concrete enough to make a difference.
How much time do you spend every day packing your kids' lunches? No more! Just take a complete Lunchbox Wizard from your refrigerator each day to give your kids a healthy lunch and have more time to play or read with them!
This copy is better because there are vivid images. The audience can picture spending quality time with their kids – and what parent could argue with that? And mentioning that the product is stored in the refrigerator explains how the idea is practical. The message has come alive through these details.
When your communication is correct, it fits your audience. And correct communication is also error-free communication.
- Do the technical terms you use fit your audience's level of education or knowledge?
- Have you checked your writing for grammatical errors? Remember, spell checkers won't catch everything.
- Are all names and titles spelled correctly?
Thanks so much for meeting me at lunch today! I enjoyed our conservation, and I'm looking forward to moving ahead on our project. I'm sure that the two-weak deadline won't be an issue.
Thanks again, and I'll speak to you soon!
If you read that example fast, then you might not have caught any errors. But on closer inspection, you'll find two. Can you see them?
The first error is that the writer accidentally typed conservation instead of conversation. This common error can happen when you're typing too fast. The other error is using weak instead of week.
Again, spell checkers won't catch word errors like this, which is why it's so important to proofread everything!
When your communication is coherent, it's logical. All points are connected and relevant to the main topic, and the tone and flow of the text is consistent.
I wanted to write you a quick note about the report you finished last week. I gave it to Michelle to proof, and she wanted to make sure you knew about the department meeting we're having this Friday. We'll be creating an outline for the new employee handbook.
As you can see, this email doesn't communicate its point very well. Where is Michelle's feedback on Traci's report? She started to mention it, but then she changed the topic to Friday's meeting.
I wanted to write you a quick note about the report you finished last week. I gave it to Michelle to proof, and she let me know that there are a few changes that you'll need to make. She'll email you her detailed comments later this afternoon.
Notice that in the good example, Michelle does not mention Friday's meeting. This is because the meeting reminder should be an entirely separate email. This way, Traci can delete the report feedback email after she makes her changes, but save the email about the meeting as her reminder to attend. Each email has only one main topic.
In a complete message, the audience has everything they need to be informed and, if applicable, take action.
- Does your message include a "call to action," so that your audience clearly knows what you want them to do?
- Have you included all relevant information – contact names, dates, times, locations, and so on?
I just wanted to send you all a reminder about the meeting we're having tomorrow!
See you then,
This message is not complete, for obvious reasons. What meeting? When is it? Where? Chris has left his team without the necessary information.
I just wanted to remind you about tomorrow's meeting on the new telecommuting policies. The meeting will be at 10:00 a.m. in the second-level conference room. Please let me know if you can't attend.
See you then,
Courteous communication is friendly, open, and honest. There are no hidden insults or passive-aggressive tones. You keep your reader's viewpoint in mind, and you're empathetic to their needs.
I wanted to let you know that I don't appreciate how your team always monopolizes the discussion at our weekly meetings. I have a lot of projects, and I really need time to get my team's progress discussed as well. So far, thanks to your department, I haven't been able to do that. Can you make sure they make time for me and my team next week?
Well, that's hardly courteous! Messages like this can potentially start office-wide fights. And this email does nothing but create bad feelings, and lower productivity and morale. A little bit of courtesy, even in difficult situations, can go a long way.
I wanted to write you a quick note to ask a favor. During our weekly meetings, your team does an excellent job of highlighting their progress. But this uses some of the time available for my team to highlight theirs. I'd really appreciate it if you could give my team a little extra time each week to fully cover their progress reports.
Thanks so much, and please let me know if there's anything I can do for you!
What a difference! This email is courteous and friendly, and it has little chance of spreading bad feelings around the office.
There are a few variations of the 7 Cs of Communication:
- Credible – Does your message improve or highlight your credibility? This is especially important when communicating with an audience that doesn't know much about you.
- Creative – Does your message communicate creatively? Creative communication helps keep your audience engaged.
All of us communicate every day. The better we communicate, the more credibility we'll have with our clients, our boss, and our colleagues.
Use the 7 Cs of Communication as a checklist for all of your communication. By doing this, you'll stay clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, and courteous.
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Effective Writing For the Workplaceby Claire E. White
The Internet Writing Journal, August 1997
Know Your Audience
The key to effective business writing is knowing your audience. Before you sit down to compose your letter, memo or report, think about the recipient of your document. What are you trying to say to this person? Organization is crucial. Outlines are an invaluable aid to writing a lengthy report or memo. Remember, time is in short supply for most business professionals. By organizing your thoughts beforehand, you can determine what exactly you are trying to say. Decide what details must be included in the report or memo. Look for graphic elements to add to your presentation, especially if your report contains many boring statistics. Statistics and research bolster your conclusions, especially if they are presented in a visually appealing manner. With the advent of modern word processing programs such as Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect, it is easy to include spread sheets, graphs and colorful clip art to your report, thereby making your work memorable and convincing.
After you have decided what the message is that you are trying to convey, work on saying it in concise language. Be brief, whenever possible. Avoid wordiness and unnecessary large words. Strive for clarity in your writing and avoid vagueness (unless there is good reason to be vague). For example:
Wordy - It is the responsibility of the recruiting committee to ensure that the goals of the hiring task force have been implemented.
Precise - Our recruiting committee must meet the hiring goals of the hiring task force.
Wordy - The hurricane had the effect of a destructive force on the manufacturing plant.
Precise - The hurricane destroyed the manufacturing plant.
Avoid using vague words when a more precise word will do. Take a tip from the journalists. Tell the audience what you are going to say, say it using action verbs, then sum up what it is you have said -- and say it in as few words as possible.
Punctuation and Grammatical Errors
Nothing can kill your credibility in a business setting faster than to have grammatical and/or punctuation errors, especially in a formal report. Many errors are due simply to insufficient proofreading of the document. Corporate lawyers routinely have a secretary read aloud to another person a very long document, while the second person checks for errors in copy. Obviously, you will not always have time for this procedure. However, before you issue a formal report, especially one that will be seen by upper management or will go outside the firm, you must have someone else proofread your document. The reason is simple; you cannot proofread your own work with 100% accuracy. Occasionally, the human mind will be too efficient and simply will supply the missing word in a sentence so that you will never notice that it is gone, or will transpose letters to their correct order. It is always easier to find errors in someone else's work.
Some errors stem not from lack of proofreading, but from simple grammatical mistakes. The most common mistakes include misuse of apostrophes, splitting of infinitives (although this rule has been revoked by many style manuals, it still drives some people to distraction to see a split infinitive except in creative writing or dialogue), using contractions in formal writing, misuse of commas, incomplete sentences, ending a sentence with a preposition, verbs not agreeing with subjects and pronouns not agreeing with their antecedents.
Invest in some good reference books, including a good grammar book and a good style book, such as The Chicago Manual of Style. Use them.
Effective Use of Passive Voice
|"Sometimes the passive voice can be a useful tool for avoiding placing blame for an error or for intentionally making a sentence vague. Effective use of passive voice in business writing is an art."|
Sometimes you will be called upon to write a memo or other report describing a corporate disaster that occurred because someone made a mistake. Passive voice can be used to describe the mistake without directly placing blame, especially if the recipient of the memo happens to be a) your superior in the company; and b) the person who made the error which led to the disaster. In this situation it would be tactless, to say the least, to use active voice boldly to describe how your boss erred -- not to mention the deleterious effect it could have upon your career. Tactful honesty is a skill greatly admired in corporate America. Use it when needed, but use it sparingly.
For example, instead of the memo saying: "Because J. Smith forgot to include the correct budget projections with the bid, we lost the client," try "The correct budget was inadvertently left out of the client packet, which led to the loss of the client." The second sentence is vague. It is unclear who left out the crucial enclosure. Your boss knows very well who is at fault, and will appreciate your not blaring the obvious to the entire company. Of course, this does leave the door open for you to be blamed for the catastrophe. Careful wording of who had responsibility for the client pitch will alleviate this problem. Passive voice, in general, should be avoided in business writing. However, there are times when judicious use of passive voice can increase the tact and diplomacy of your writing.
|"[C]ommunication is best achieved by writing in the preferred style of the recipient of your document -- especially if the recipient has anything to do with your chances of promotion."|
Some business writers have suggested pluralizing the pronoun as a solution to the problem. "Everyone should open their report to page 1." This is common in spoken English, but is grammatically incorrect. The theory is that it is better to be grammatically incorrect than to risk offending half of the population. Actually, "their" has been used for several hundred years to refer to a singular antecedent of indeterminate gender by famous authors including Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. Some scholars advocate the use of neologisms such as "hir" (a combination of his and her). The issue is a hot one in some academic circles. Unless your boss holds a doctorate in English however, it is unlikely that he or she is aware of this controversy and simply will think that you cannot distinguish between singular and plural pronouns. Therefore, steer clear of "their" in this context. With the exception of certain industries, most corporations are formal places and grammatical errors will be seen simply as that -- not as an example of your tactfulness regarding a gender issue. If you must, use "he or she", which is correct, if somewhat annoying when used many times in the same article. "Everyone should open his or her report to page 1."
When you do not know the gender of the person you are addressing in correspondence, the old rule was to write, "Dear Sirs". This is no longer acceptable. Write "Dear Sir or Madam", or better yet, use the title of the unkown addressee. "Dear Editor", for example. If you know only the initial and last name of the addressee, address the letter as "Dear J. Smith".
Recent Trends in Business Writing
Many recent articles describe a relaxation of formality in America's workplace, in everything from dress to writing styles. These articles urge professionals and workers to use simple words in company correspondence and to dispense with formality. While it is true that formality in the workplace has relaxed somewhat in the past ten years, a word of caution is in order. First, many of these articles are not written by business professionals. Although some industries have relaxed formality in dress and in writing styles, many have not -- especially those in the financial, banking and legal worlds. The region of the country in which your company is located must also be considered. For example, attire which might be considered appropriate in a computer design firm in Silicon Valley might not be at all appropriate in a large bank in Chicago or New York. The same rule applies to writing styles.
The best approach is to obtain writing samples written by the CEO and other top officers of your company. Are they formal in style? Informal? The tone of a company is set by the person or persons at the top of the company. You should tailor your writing style to match this style, just as you would tailor your dress to the style of the company for which you work. Some firms pride themselves on the fact that their employees do not wear suits - computer companies and companies in the graphic arts often follow this creed. Others, such as those in the financial services industry, pride themselves on the fact that they have not relaxed any formality requirements even though the world around them has changed. The best rule is to follow the style of your company's upper-echelon leaders. If they use a formal style for inter-office memos, you should too. If they subscribe to the new rules of simple, more direct business writing, then you should as well. If in doubt, always use the more formal approach in a memo or letter, especially when writing to your superior officers in a corporation. Remember, writing in the workplace is not the same as writing for a scholarly journal or writing for a newspaper or magazine, although the goal is the same. The goal is communication, and communication is best achieved by writing in the preferred style of the recipient of your document -- especially if the recipient has anything to do with your chances of promotion.
Formality, however, does not mean wordiness. Formality means not using contractions, addressing people by their titles, and avoiding slang. Even when writing in a more formal style, you should strive to avoid excess verbiage. Aim for concise sentences which get your point across quickly to save the reader time. Time is one of a business person's most precious resources. Get to the point of your memo or letter immediately, and your readers will thank you.
The myriad rules for punctuation and style can, at times, confuse even the most educated person. The situation is exacerbated by the changing times in which we live with all the issues relating to gender and the coining of new words and phrases to describe new technology. When dealing with marketing or advertising issues, often the best course for a business is to call in a professional writer from outside the firm. After all, no one is an expert in everything. With the trend towards instant and global communications via computer, a company's written communications and marketing literature impacts a larger audience than it ever has before. Shouldn't those communications be written by someone whose expertise is words? If you get in over your head, call in a professional writer -- you'll be glad you did.
**Claire E. White is an attorney with over ten years' experience in major law firms. She is a former instructor at the University of California at Irvine Extension and is a frequent lecturer and writer on legal and business topics including computer law, corporate law, the Internet and effective business communications.