About 10 years ago, a customer asked if I had a writing workshop I could deliver for a staff training day. Her team were all writers but approached their writing tasks with myriad styles and opinions about what was right and wrong, what was bad and good, what to do and what not to do.
As the editor in the group, she was looking for a way to align people with a common understanding about how their brand should be communicating. She desperately wanted to claw some of the time back she was spending editing every piece that came across her desk.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have anything like that,” I said.
“Is that something you could do for us?” I doubt she was used to dealing with such a dim-witted service provider who didn’t see an obvious opening for new business.
I quickly got on board because I had ideas about how anyone could improve their writing. Writing training for many of us ended early in high school. Let’s face it, the writing instruction we had at school hasn’t translated that well for readers with information overload.
Fast-forward to 2023, and I’m seeing a bigger need for writing workshops, seminars, and training. Dan and I are getting increased demand from businesses to help people who already know how to write but are struggling to satisfy the modern reader.
Here are seven key takeaways from writing workshops conducted in the past year.
Business communicators are caught in a doom loop. They are experiencing unnecessary – and often unwarranted – abuse from customers and the public. They’re worried about being called out or inflaming a situation. They know the media is lying in wait for a mistake to be made. They err on the side of formality and aren’t opposed to having legal help crafting responses.
When lawyers get involved in copywriting and business communications, readers know it.
It’s no wonder AI seems like an attractive option. AI generates corporate communications filled with gobbledygook and overblown formality – but it’s a lot faster.
This kind of guarded writing fans the flames of discontent. Readers feel like business communicators are hiding behind small print. They can’t easily understand what’s being communicated and are frustrated with jargon and legalese. They complain on social media and one irksome piece of writing in the right hands can be the start of a mob.
COVID didn’t help, but the trend toward angry started way before the spicy cough disrupted everything. When I look at these seven points in combination, it’s obvious everyone needs to know techniques for writing with empathy.
Writing can’t save the world, but it can go a long way to setting a tone of cooperation. Being intentionally genial, just as we are when writing to co-workers, is a good first step. Conveying a more generous, less cautious tone in our writing is less likely to provoke ire.
That original workshop has changed over the years. A large part of it now deals with how to be more empathetic in your writing, something no-one ever mentioned in my business writing studies.
What advice can you share with writers who are delivering unwanted news or dealing with angry customers? Reply to this email and let me know. I’ll include it in a future edition of The Write Fit. It might even make its way into that workshop I had to be nudged to develop.
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