The business of goodwill

It’s that magical time of year again. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose and – quite possibly – being thrown together with people you have nothing more in common with than blood.

And, as anyone who has grin-and-borne-it through a stressful or tedious family gathering can verify, if Christmas is actually going to be a time of peace on Earth, it won’t be without a bit of effort (and a fair bit of eggnog). Which is why we’re about to suggest something a little radical: writer-focused reading.

Now, we still stand firmly by the idea of reader-centred writing: by concentrating on the recipient’s needs and situation, you’re guaranteed to produce the best response in them with your document.

Yet what about when it’s too late for that? The deed is done, and now you’re the reader stuck with the stressful and tedious task of untangling what the author actually meant to say. Well, before you escalate the situation and potentially sever a business relationship for good, here’s one for the season of goodwill: focus on the writer.

Although of course not a business matter, the accidentally offensive letter Gordon Brown sent to the mother of Jamie Janes, the young soldier killed in Afghanistan earlier this year, is one such example. While a tragic and delicate subject like this should naturally be handled with the utmost care, in the reading it might also be considered in context: that the blind in one eye, half-blind in the other leader of the country took the time personally to hand-write a letter of condolence, most likely with the best of intentions.

So, if you are the poor reader and you have the seeds of a scornful comeback sprouting in your head – hold on. First, consider your answers to our writer-profile questionnaire:

1.      Think about the document you’ve received. What is its subject?

2.      Who wrote it?

3.      How much did they know about the subject?

4.      What was their likely attitude towards it?

5.      How involved in the subject are they?

6.      How important is the subject to them?

7.      How interested in the subject are they?

8.      Do you have any other relevant knowledge about their situation (work-related or otherwise)?

9.      What is your relationship like with the author?

10.      How important is maintaining a good relationship with the writer of the document to you and your company?

After you’ve answered these questions, you may have a better understanding of the writer’s position and motivations. You may be feeling calmer and more forgiving (you have, after all, just counted to ten). You may even have just saved an important business connection.

So treat yourself to a cup of eggnog. And don’t worry: the season will be over before you know it.

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