Making your letter stand out from the crowd

Posted on: 10th April 2012

Even when most of the world has gone online, there are still some occasions when you need to sit down and write a letter. Sometimes, written letters and formal emails can be the most important type of correspondance you will need to send – it could be about a job, housing, or legal issues. In this post, Phil provides 6 tips to make sure your letter ticks all the boxes…

“If you’ve written letters in the past with a sense of dread, knowing what you want to say but maybe not how to say it, try out a few of these ideas. This is just as much about applying for a job, as trying to get a refund, avoid unfair charges, or any other important communication.

Written communication is much harder to ignore than a conversation. You’ll have many times greater a chance of success than wasting hours on the telephone, because you can refine what you say to be very precise, and by keeping a copy, you can prove what you said, and when. Really important stuff can be sent by recorded mail for an extra 50p at the Post Office, but emails can be effective too, and are much cheaper to send.

1. Know who you are writing to. A phone call can confirm the name of the right person, but you should also know as much background information as possible. What are the aims and objectives of the person’s organisation? The internet is a wonderful tool for this, within easy reach of almost all of us. You will very likely be able to use this to your advantage, and do make extra sure to spell names & addresses correctly.

2. Sketch out, in your mind, the broad points you have to get across, and try to order them in a way that makes most sense. This will form the main body of your communication, and is no different to the way you might usually write such a letter. Drafts & edits are really easier by computer than on paper.

3. Understand you are communicating with human beings, and treat them as we would all like to be treated. To do that, we need to understand some simple workplace psychology, ie., that we are all motivated by similar aims. There are other, less common and less important motivators, but the main 3 to consider are to feel appreciated, to feel we are achieving something, and to have control. The person receiving your letter is much more likely to help you, if you can make them feel these three things.

4. Understand that good communication doesn’t just happen, and the more thought & editing will help make a better impression. I will quickly note my main points down, and reshuffle the order until I’m happy with those few sentences. I then write in extra ‘friendly’ parts, but not so flattering that it’s overdoing it… express yourself in a comfortable but still appropriate manner.

5. Next, what may need a few or a lot of words, depending on what the communication is about – Achievement. Here, we must aim for a shared goal, even if you’re just asking someone to do their job, you are offering to help them do it. Justice or fairness may be what you’re after, so don’t be afraid to ask for some. Very nicely of course! Ranting will rarely get you anywhere, even if you think it is your right to do so.

6. The motivation we save until last in the letter is power, or control. Assuming you have followed point No.1, (the person you wish to communicate with has the power to meet your requests) – it might all be a waste of time if they don’t. After you’ve been nice to them, understood the nature of their work, and offered a positive shared outcome, all that’s left is to ask them to exercise their power. It’s a simple request, but one you will have made much harder for them to resist with all your efforts as above. It’s human nature to want to use what powers we have, and it is a weakness you should turn to your advantage.

If it makes sense to do so, such as in a long communication, I will recap my position at the end. It might also make sense to begin the communication by outlining your chosen outcome too, depending on circumstances. I’ve listed some important approaches to communication here, and have used these to save myself lots of time, money and trouble, or to gain results against the odds. I hope they prove as useful to you as they have been for me.”


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