Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life -54 ( the art of written communication)

Jottings : Slice of life -54 ( the art of written communication)
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, who holds a senior position in a leading software enterprise , made the following remark
“Bala, nearly three fourths of my working day is spent composing emails to different people. Sometimes, it takes an hour to put down my thoughts the way I want to… It is quite draining..”
“Thats strange : Are you saying that you are taking time thinking about what you want to write or is it that your time is consumed writing what you have thought and decided? which one of this is true?
“Why do you ask that. Aren't they the same?”
“No My friend, they are entirely different. In the first case, you are consciously deliberating on how you should respond to the substance of an email received, or a proposal under consideration. It is more about solid thinking, weighing options, based upon your professional expertise and knowledge you bring to the table.. And organizations decide to pay you well only for that kind of work. But, on the other hand, if you are spending an hour writing and rewriting what you have already decided and thought through, it is a shame and utter waste of your time and organization’s? because it indicates a basic lack of communication skills. Well, you may believe and make others believe you are working, but actually all that you are doing is grappling with basic communication techniques, which, with all due respect, one should have learnt in school, college or by self study later…” I chuckled along with him, and continued “ It is even more shameful in modern times, with word processors doing all the writing for you, and all that you have to do ( for most part) is to choose from options indicated. Think of the time twenty years ago, when type writers, or even earlier than that - pen and paper. Managers would not dare to write incorrectly, because there was effort involved and they knew the consequences of not forming their sentences well enough before attempting to write. But today, there is utter carelessness about writing. Language, vocabulary, syntax, punctuation, flow, style - nothing is learnt well enough to become part of oneself, and hence unnecessary time and energy spent”
Roger looked at me puzzled “ So Bala, are you indicating that most of what I call productive work is nothing more than feeble attempts to write properly. Surely not? “
“Well, I wouldn't want to generalize. But for most part, it seems in the modern work place, the attempt to translate good thought processes on to paper seems to be the real challenge for many. I have known people take long time to compose emails a paragraph long. It is not so much the typographical errors, or even grammatical. It is to do with the effort of finding the right words, and structure and style to convey what we wish to.”
“you may be right. Now that i think about it, it seems a big chunk of time is spent of forming sentences the way I want to. Certain kind of emails , I can write quickly and well. Others take an inordinately long time. especially, if the matter under consideration is new, important and will have consequences. Even there - it is the hesitancy, the unsureness of my own sentences that bother me and not my thoughts or decisions. Hmmm, you do have a point there…”
Roger and I laughed, finished our coffee and bagel and parted ways.
My interest in letter writing was kindled nearly three decades ago , or even earlier( I dont remember exactly when), in Palani, Home of my Mother’s elder sister. During one of our customary holidays there, i came across a book on English language and its usage. Again, all that I remember about the book is that it was a red hard bound volume, aged and musty even then. In one of its chapters, which talked about letter writing, the author had quoted Lincoln’s letter written during the height of civil war to a mother who had lost all five sons in battle. For some reason, the letter remained indelibly etched in my memory, and triggered my passion for letter writing ever since. Even today, I can quote Lincoln's letter verbatim. It goes like this
Dear Madam,--
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
It was later, I came to know that it was the famous Mrs. Bixby letter, considered by many to be one of the most elegant, short well phrased and emotional letters ever to come of out a presidential hand. One of the best ways to improve written communication is to read collections of letters by renowned writers. In it, more than their formal writings, they reveal, how a common place thought, or a profound idea can effortlessly be conveyed to others. Young professionals, eager to do well in modern workplace would benefit if they can find time to read such letters. It will help them grow in confidence and facilitate effective communication with elegance ,grace and purpose.
God bless..
yours in mortality,

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