Who is your business communication written for?

Author: Stewart Clark / Date: November 30, 2015

Category: Communication

Have you ever read a business note, perhaps an email or a letter and thought – huh, what’s that about…..as the tone or content of the note is as if its been written for someone else? Well perhaps it has!

In business I have found that the principle of writing for a “third party” audience, is actually not that uncommon. Often these days its in email format, with the note written more for the benefit of the person checking or reviewing the document than the recipient. The third party could be the boss, a manager, an audit function or even for a social or business group.

In all such cases, the writer is more concerned about the message they are conveying to the third party audience than they are about the recipient.

Digging deeper, documents written for a third party often include not only extra conditions or terms, but in many cases can also be a little liberal with the truth.

Some examples may be;

– detail provided in taxation returns

– employee performance appraisals

– workplace surveys

– finance applications

– prospectus or investment documents

– some contracts

Potential pitfalls of this type of communication method vary, but the more common ones include;

  1. issuing a document which is not factually correct, which naturally can have disastrous impacts down the track
  2. employee impact – loss of respect in leadership all the way through to an outright employee conflict
  3. poor engagement or culture within the wider business workforce or group environment
  4. inefficient processing with these types of communications often sparking a war of words
  5. loss of credibility or adverse impact to ratings or assessments

On balance, I don’t recommend writing for the third party – instead, writing a clear document to the intended audience is always the best practice. If there are factors in that document which concern you from an oversight or audit perspective, then they are better tackled up front, ideally before the document is issued.

For example, if there is concern that a performance appraisal for a staff member is going to be challenged, then pro-actively debate this within management before the appraisal is issued to the staff member. Equally, with finance applications and/or tax returns the same applies – clarify the contentious point first and then lodge – don’t try to use misdirection or a more casual style of truth – as you will generally get found out….at some point.

Considering this from the other perspective – what if you are the recipient of this type of document?

Call it out for what it is – a poor piece of communication. Do this early, clearly and I suggest, politely. Naturally the type of circumstance and document will in part dictate how you do this.

If for instance it is a performance appraisal, then the third party commentary will most likely be in the form of ratings or comments that you were unaware of. A performance appraisal issued by a good leader should have none of these, as good or poor performance factors should merely be part of an ongoing performance conversation – and not just around appraisal time.

If however you are in receipt of a contract, finance application or other form of return that has a shaded version of the truth, this should be taken as a clear warning sign around the issuers credibility. The age old point being, if they have been liberal with the truth on this – then what else is not as it seems? This can be a very hard position to come back from.

In an age where we have multiple forms of communication – face to face, verbal and written, which can then be transmitted in so many different ways – and often at great speed – clear and open communication is critical. Regardless of the motive, writing a document for a third party can be dangerous and at best, inefficient.

For all communications – identify and break down the driving issues and address each directly and in the appropriate order to draw a superior communication outcome.

For some more thoughts on effective communication, check out “It’s never the Message in business, always the delivery!” and “Communicating your Close line for Impact and Results”. If you want to explore how you are communicating more fully, then contact us for a meeting.