Your written communication can have a significant impact on an organization. One professional organization I belong to is having an ensuing battle over a topic in yahoo groups. Someone says they want to leave because they are not getting what they want out of the organization. He wrote a series of written communications that only seemed to fuel the discussion – and not necessarily in a positive way.

It started out with asking questions and giving constructive feedback to the general membership. The topic really doesn’t matter; how things are being said does matter.

If you were to ask people individually if there was a battle, there would not be a consensus. One person might think they are just stating an opinion, another would say they are trying to get everyone to “get along” and others who chime in found their comments dissected. Now you probably understand why I call it a battle.

It is hard to write a response to a hot topic effectively, especially if people do not know you. We all quirks – it might be using certain words or phrases that could be misconstrued.

If you are talking to someone in person, you can see how the other person is reacting to your words and make a correction or clarification – because we all think and communicate differently.

Even if you throw out the caveat that you may say things “tongue in cheek” or that you are seen as a “trouble maker” or you do not “sugar coat” things, you run the risk of being misunderstood.

Here are a few ways you can help to create a more inclusive and healthy conversation – whether it is written or oral:

  1. People get caught up quickly in the blame game and get defensive instead of responsive. If the tone of your message is about how everything is wrong, learn how to finesse your message without sounding like a know it all. The best technique is to ask questions that lead people to rethink their position. Does it take longer? Yes – and you will have more followers in the long run.
  2. Forget about telling people what they need to do. When you tell them they need to do something, they rebel. Suggest why someone might want to do something differently.
  3. The excuse of I am not “in the know” is a cop out. If you want to know something, it means getting involved and making an investment to learn what you do not know.
  4. Avoid the perception that your time or intellect is better than everyone else. I am too busy or someone else or something matters more sends the message you do not care. If you don’t care, they don’t care.
  5. Take the words “we/you should” out of the conversation. Talk about what you are willing to do. “We/you should” implies someone else has to change or do something. It is more relevant what you are going to do to make it better. If you take personal accountability, change will happen more quickly.
  6. Being the mouthpiece is not a good role. If people do not have the courage to speak up, the message was not that important.
  7. Listen to and consider alternatives. If you are stuck thinking there is only one solution, guess what – there is only one solution. It is easy to list all the reasons why “you can’t”. Think about the things “you can” do that others “can do” too. Yes, I am talking about collaboration, not compromise.
  8. Don’t be the martyr. People will question intent when someone plays this card.
  9. If your conversations continually end with negative results – it’s time to look at yourself. When someone comes to me and says they had another one of those situations, I ask them: “What is the common denominator?” There is usually only one answer. Take a step back and picture how you can get your point across more effectively and have a positive outcome. If you do not know how, get some help figuring it out.