Less is more…
How easy does writing parent communications come to you? I’ve never really spent much time thinking about it up till now, but having been asked to look through several parent letters, newsletters and info pieces in recent weeks and indeed since I started consulting, I’ve realised that I have a bit of knack of taking others (and my own) written texts and making them either less wordy, more understandable and sometimes just a lot shorter (yes I know that last one is hard to believe!). Now I’m not sure if that is because it’s easy to see how someone else’s words can be improved, or that I am actually quite good at these things?
Written communication needs to be very effective, it’s quite different from verbal communication because you have no visual cues to work with or adapt along the way, as you do when speaking with others. You have one shot at ‘getting it right’. This is why it is a good idea to seek the opinion of others. Be that someone with similar experience and expertise as yourself, a ‘more knowledgeable other’ as Vygotsky would call it, or ‘a critical friend’ as my university lecturer used to say, being someone who you know and trust to be honest with you. Getting this extra helping hand could save you many hours of ‘sorting out’ a wrongly worded statement. This happened to one nursery I know when they hastily sent out a parent communication that, in retrospect, they realised had not been considered.
So whilst I find myself writing a lot, and even moreso in recent times with blogs, magazine articles, early years products and now a book planned, I have never really considered how effective or good my written parent communications are. For over 18 years I have written communications to parents, to staff, to suppliers and on a few occasions to civil servants and the odd government minister (aren’t they all odd?).
I have always used the premise that ‘less is more’, you need to say enough, without being too verbose, and you should always leave the raw emotion at the door. Whilst emotion or feelings are often the cause of many parent communications, when we are unhappy with something or we have bad news to give out, we should leave the reader with the feeling that they have all the facts and not just the emotion behind the situation. The reader should be left in the ‘state’ that you intended, either wanting to know more by your invitation or being able to go away with all the information they need to know – and nothing more.
I have found though that, especially in early years, we seem to be quite apologetic when we make parent communications, we often start off on the back foot and it can go downhill from there. I have realised therefore there is a skill involved in being able to put together the right words with the right tone in order not to evoke the wrong response from the recipient, especially where there are sensitive issues, relating to fees, their child’s care or some other such ‘delicate’ subject. This has not been quick realisation, I almost take my ability to write effectively for granted, but since starting my consultancy I have been involved in supporting settings more and more in their parent communications about anything from pricing to managing safeguarding. What this has led me to believe is that actually I’m quite good with words and communication – at least in this traditional written form. I have a way with making the words, even when the news isn’t so good, sounding positive. Turning things on their head and looking at the bright side – empathising with the situation and offering support and solutions and ways forward, whilst all the time giving them the message that this is what is happening and that the main message will not be changing.
So whilst many people can do this, it’s not a skill unique to me, and it can be lear
ned, there are also some that find it much harder. Their words do not flow naturally and they can sometimes get bogged down in the justification of the message rather than the message itself. So how can you improve on this? Well, reading what others write, spending time writing and re-writing and lots of practice are some ways that work. Finding a more knowledgeable other or a critical friend is a good way forward too. I rarely send out a communication without reading it, and re-reading it, the reading it again and then end up mostly re-writing it. I then get others to read it too. In fact this is my third re-write of this blog! It takes time and effort, but like so many things, can then save you time later on.
Alternatively, you could find someone in your organisation who is already a natural at these type of parent communications, or as a last port of call, employ a consultant!
2 thoughts on “Less is more…”
Very well blogged. I felt that one pertinent part of handling the concerns is establishing clearly what the concern is really about and what the complainant is trying to achieve. While I agree that this may not be compatible with the outcome that they will eventually hear and that all of the above skills and strategies are essential to acquire, it is important to answer the concern and not what you think the concern is really all about. Here also a second pair of eyes considering what it must be like from the complainants point of view is also helpful. Leaving as you say the emotion at the door in your ability to be empathetic and dispassionate when responding a proper analysis of what the problem is the first thing to establish. Not rushing to print as you point out is also essential.
Thank you Esther. Some very good points there as well!