Positive Impressions

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 3

Geri’s question:  In your writing, do you grapple with ensuring that you incorporate “positive impressions”. What does that look like?

Early in my career, no.  People used to comment that they liked my conversational style.  I took that to heart, and said whatever came to mind. And I was rewarded for this. My eNewsletters for ASTD-Orange County were applauded for their informality and friendliness. They weren’t stiff; the language encouraged people to read them.

But you can become too conversational, and if you’re not watching out, you can find yourself choosing words that are regrettable.  You can find yourself venting about something that frustrated you.  You can get in trouble for the very informality that you embrace.

After a while, poor messaging impacted the perception of others who had a say in hiring me.  I got reprimanded in performance reviews, and the words I chose cost me real dollars in the form of raises, and promotions.

I learned. As I gained more responsibilities at work, the messages I sent became a measure of who I am.

Now, I seek a few things in my writing:
• Clarity.
• Conciseness
• Clear conscience – I never want to have to wonder if I should have said something.

My successor in the Communications post at ASTD-Orange County has a similar tendency for informal communication, and he took that casual, friendly tone in our eNewsletters to a new level — they were very popular. But, I contend that his willingness to publicly air what he thought could have damaged our organization’s reputation if I hadn’t, for one episode, stepped in.

My successor had sent an eNewsletter advertising a popular event and indicating that a limited number of seats were available. He urged our members to reserve their seats soon. Shortly afterward, my successor received an email complaining that the author of the email had attempted to take his advice, but found the event to be sold out. In her angry response, she accused my friend of creating a sense of scarcity in the Chapter.

My friend took umbrage to that email; he felt it placed him in the ranks of door-to-door snake oil salesmen.  I don’t necessarily blame him there. He composed a lengthy, angry response that admonished the complaining email’s author for scolding him without knowing the facts.  And then he posted the email he had received, and his response, on our Chapter Blog.

That’s where I chose to step in.  There were two things to consider:

  1. The initial communication that had drawn my friend’s ire had been sent only to my friend, not to everyone in the Chapter. His response didn’t need to be public; it should have been in kind — a reply email. As it was, my successor was inviting a flame war on a professional blog. I suggest that a professional blog is not a place for such venom.
  2. Rather than respond in anger, my friend could have put on a customer service hat and calmly explained the procedure that he had followed. That at the time the eNewsletter had been sent, he had believed that seats were still available.   The general content would have remained the same — our volunteers work very hard to provide valuable services for our members — and any other members of the public could have been informed about why they were inconvenienced.

My friend and I had a lengthy discussion about his right to respond to the email openly, and although we agreed to disagree, he removed the post and uploaded an edited version that extolled the virtues of the hard-working volunteers of the Chapter.

Although I infer in my previous points that an email from one person to another enjoys a certain level of privacy, I would like to quickly assure you that email is not a private method of communication. Very often it is a public method of communication, even if it’s only to one person. And that’s because once I receive an email, it’s mine to do with as I please.

A case in point would be Ocean Marketing’s self-destructive emails to a customer wanting to know where his product was. This is a case study both in poor communication, and later in damaging communication. But it shows how quickly anything someone writes can go viral. So whatever you write, write something that leaves a positive impression.


This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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