Five things managers have to write well

If you’re a manager, you’ll want to inspire, motivate and persuade people. If you don’t, you risk having disengaged workers, poor relationships and low morale. That can lead to mistakes, misunderstandings, inefficiencies, high turnover and a lack of productivity.

When you write as a manager, you have to be more courteous, accommodating and considerate than before. Here are five things managers need to write well:

1. Inspire and Motivate

Some tips that you can apply in writing as well as in person.

  • Share information regularly. Let people know what’s going on to keep them engaged.
  • Give people the big picture. This will help them understand where they fit in.
  • Make the most of good news (but don’t hide bad news).
  • Keep a positive, upbeat attitude.
  • Let people know they’re accountable.
  • Encourage staff to share information and ideas.
  • Show appreciation often. Be direct—don’t cascade.

2. Deliver good news

Reinforce people’s enthusiasm by delivering good news well. Be specific and acknowledge the extra effort people put it to help them feel valued and good about working for you.

3. Deliver bad news

Always consider whether bad news is better delivered in person than in writing. Your goal is to minimise bad feelings. In writing people can see this as impersonal and avoiding responsibility. If you do, don’t ‘sandwich it’ between positive news.

Winston Churchill: writing to inspire

The idea is to inspire confidence, point to a silver lining and re-frame the news towards possibilities and action. Take Winston Churchill’s Finest Hour speech. France had just fallen and Britain’s national survival was in doubt. Clare Lynch looks at his Finest Hour speech to show how he:

  • Gets straight to the point (the news from France is very bad)
  • Doesn’t flinch from the truth (the whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us)
  • Paints a picture (if we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands)
  • Uses short, simple words and
  • Makes his verbs do the work.

4. Write requests and give orders

Written instructions can help clarify instructions. Remember to:

  • Provide context for the task to show its importance
  • Be specific about when people should complete the work, and the intended results
  • Offer the chance to clarify what you’re asking for, and
  • Give thanks and appropriate feedback for work done.

5. Write to higher-ups

It’s likely your senior managers are just as busy as you. So make sure your correspondence is short and to-the-point. Be realistic about what you want to achieve. Pick the right time to send your emails and texts.

Remember the three principles of good business writing: be clear and straightforward, write with purpose and frame it from their point of view.


My Writing to Manage workshop includes activities to improve your written communication as a manager—take a look!

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