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A common problem in corporate environment is that things such as documentation, reports and emails are usually badly written, and so are rarely read.

Usually, I try to do my best at communicating. I rephrase things so they are easier to understand, I take great care about how what I write looks, I avoid typos and errors, I put text in bold when necessary, add diagrams when they make sense, use extensively Unicode or icons when they help grasping the complex stuff, try to be as concise as possible, etc.

I do that (1) because I enjoy it, and also (2) because I want to send a message. “Hey, this report is not like all the others you've seen: you won't be bored if you read it, I promise.”

Nevertheless, I noticed that:

  • Some persons among the target audience still don't read what I write.
  • Most persons who read, don't do it carefully enough.

This causes a lot of communication issues, where I expect a given number of persons to learn something, but later on, I notice that they didn't learn that.

For instance, when going on a long vacation once, I tried my best to let my colleagues know about one critical aspect of the project, in order for them to be able to handle it while I'm away. I mentioned it three times during three stand-ups, added a page in the documentation, and, just in case, wrote an email to my colleagues, explaining the thing in detail (with all the diagrams, etc.) Back from my vacation, it was a mess: everybody was trying to handle the critical thing, and nobody knew how to do it. When I started asking them if they have read the documentation or my email, I got a puzzled look: “There's documentation? You wrote an email? Oh, that email! I believe I remember it now.”

It is just one of the examples, but I have dozens of similar situations, where they just had to read.

Is there anything else I can try to mitigate those communication problems?

In other words, in a context of a group of persons who were accustomed to badly written stuff, who therefore don't want to try to make an effort to read, and who have probably severe issues focusing and reading too much in a noisy office, how do I optimize my communication in order to get the message to the target audience?


Things I have thought of:

  • Doing demos (either as an alternative to written communication, or as an addition). Tried that; sometimes it seems to help. In other situations, it doesn't, as the persons seem to forget everything I told during the demo the day after that (although maybe it's my fault and my oral skills should be improved).

  • Doing videos. Never tried this one, and I'm not sure this is sustainable in corporate environment.

  • Replacing textual information by images, such as infographics. Never did it either, and it seems way too time consuming in my case.

  • Avoiding altogether the situations which need to be documented. Unfortunately, as I'm not always the one who designs the software, I don't necessarily have enough leverage to do everything in a way that would make it intuitive.

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You are talking about "documentation, reports and emails", which covers most of corporate communication.

The clue here is, however, the purpose of this communication.

If you're not in PR, advertising and similar - areas where you are paid for communicating, communication is just a tool. This means it should be understandable, concise, target-oriented.

I have never read a report in my life where I though "Wow, this report is different than all the other reports. It's incredible". And that's fine. If it's understandable, concise and includes all the info I need - that's my dream come true. Most don't fulfill these conditions. I don't want reports, documentation etc. to be original.

If you really want your communication to matter, keep in mind that communication is just one element of change management. When you want people to learn something you have to normally 1) find a sponsor 2) create buy-ins 3) make people interested 4) share training materials/ organize trainings, etc. etc. There's a lot of literature on that.

If that's too much, use communication to benefit yourself. E.g. if you have something documented very well, you can reply to people asking you about it over and over again by sharing an excerpt from your documentation.

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