I've written about communications on airlines before (in Blog 25) and how, by doing the safety announcement the same way they've always done, passengers don't pay attention any more (even though their very lives could depend on that information).
A similar thought struck me last week on the way back from London when the plane stopped on the tarmac just ahead of the gate and a keen passenger stood up.
In a split-second the PA came alive...
'For your safety and the safety of those around you please remain in your seats with your seat belt fastened until the aircraft has arrived at the gate and the captain has switched off the seat belt sign'
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for politeness and respect. But there's a time and a place.
So what about:
'Please sit down until the seat belt sign is turned off'
11 words versus 38.
And it gets straight to the point - there's nothing to dress up the message, nothing that leads to passengers getting confused - just the message delivered succinctly and clearly. But, because the airline (in this case) felt the need to be polite and respectful (so as to not cause offence), they went with the softer, more flowery option.
There's a time and a place for being direct.
And the same's true at work. Often, particularly when someone has to deliver a tough message, it's easier to gloss it up and bury it in bundles of words. All that does is create confusion among recipients of the message, them taking away a possibly warped version of the truth and, most worryingly, different versions of what you just told them.
There's no understanding and no consistency in delivery of the message. It leaves the recipient in, arguably, a worse position than they were before.
But you've delivered the message nonetheless, ticked the box and can move on!
Being Brief is one of the five principles I talk about on my 'Communications for the 21st Century Course'. For me, being brief can be defined as 'not using two words when one will do and respecting the reader’s time'.
So how can you do that?
Edit, edit, edit – Every pass you make, your copy gets better. There’s no such thing as a flawless piece of writing that can’t be further improved.
Think length - And when you're editing, always be thinking about length - we're busy and we get a lot of communications, so how can you cut through that? What's the message you are trying to convey. Does your communication support it? Or is there lots of unnecessary and distracting content?
Be thoughtful - Put yourself in the shoes of the reader – does it feel right? Or long and overly wordy? what else is landing that day/week/month and how can you ensure your message lands in the most impactful way?
Read aloud! – How does it sound? If it’s easy to say it’ll bea easier and clearer for your audience to hear or read.
So, the next time you have to deliver a tough message - in writing or verbally - think about what kind of cabin crew you want to be.