Category Archives: Workplace Practice

Supporting Your Boss Effectively

(For ease of reading in this article, I have used the masculine gender pronoun to refer to the boss. This in no way implies that bosses are predominantly men.)

Working With a Boss Who Withholds Information

A friend recently lamented to me that her boss seems unwilling to share information with her.

She would be the last to know about projects and updates. It was also humiliating to hear the latest news about her own department from colleagues in other departments.

Of course, your boss is not obliged to tell you everything that is going on. However, if by not telling you, it negatively affects the way you perform the job, you must deal with it.

Here are some ways to manage this:

  • Gather evidence. Don’t just complain vaguely to your boss. Have some concrete evidence of actual pieces of information that you did not receive from him (when you should have).
  • Explain clearly why the withholding of information bothered or affected you. Just being dissatisfied, for example, is not going to convince your boss that it is important. Tell him how it affected your morale, made you waste more time, or affected your productivity.
  • Emphasise the positives. Instead of just stating the negatives, tell him some positive consequences of sharing the information with you.
  • Show your enthusiasm about projects by asking to be given information.
Working With a Boss Who Doesn’t Seem to Like You

Another friend had some concerns that her boss did not seem to like her. She felt that he would avoid talking to her, and if he had to, he would be curt and cold.

Your boss does not have to like you, but he must respect you and the work that you do.

However, work will be a lot more pleasant if your boss likes you. Try to find out what he doesn’t like about you (but the answer could be hard to take).

It is awkward to ask outright why the boss doesn’t like you. It may be easier to ask if there is anything you are doing (or not doing) that he would prefer to be different.

The best time to ask this would be at your annual appraisal. However, if that is a long time away, then you may need to ask to speak with the boss privately.

And sometimes, you may just have to accept that you and the boss have a personality clash, and he is never going to like you. But he must respect you and the work you do.

Why Figure Out How to Support Your Boss?

Your working relationship with your boss could be the most important one at the workplace. If this relationship is weak or negative, it could lead to dissatisfaction, frustration, stress, and below-expectation performance.

Sometimes, speaking to your boss about your feelings and concerns could be the best way to deal with issues with your boss.

At other times, it may be worth your while to analyse and understand your boss’ work preferences and leadership style, and try to work with this understanding.

Is Your Business Writing Clear, Logical, and Accurate?

A lot has been said about not using an outdated writing style, or being too formal or informal, in business writing.

However, perhaps more important than that, your writing should convey details clearly, accurately, and with a logical flow.

Here’s a scenario. Tammy’s boss has asked her to assess the feasibility of using the office conference room to hold a meeting with some people from CyberWay Pte Ltd, an important client.

After doing the research, these are Tammy’s findings:

  • If everyone shows up (from both sides), there will be 12 persons. The conference room can only take up to 10 persons comfortably.
  • The conference room was recently renovated, but the audio-visual equipment will only be installed on the morning of the meeting. It is a new brand which the company has not used before. Tammy’s boss will need this equipment for a presentation during the meeting.
  • About S$150 will be needed for snacks and drinks for the meeting.

This is the email Tammy wrote to her boss:

____________________________________________________________________

Hi Peter,

Here are my findings on the conference room for the meeting with CyberWay.

Our conference room has recently been renovated and the audio-visual equipment will only be installed on that morning.  We will not have time to test it and it is a brand that we have not used before.  The room is not big enough to accommodate 12 pax and will not be conducive enough to hold this meeting.  We will also need to spend about $150 for snacks and drinks.

Regards,

Tammy

____________________________________________________________________

What do you think of the message? Was it clear? Was the logical flow apparent?

Here are our suggested revisions (in red):

_____________________________________________________________________

Hi Peter,

For the meeting with CyberWay Pte Ltd on 19 Aug, here are my findings on the feasibility of using our conference room.

Our conference room has recently been renovated, and the audio-visual equipment will only be installed on that morning. As such, we will not have time to test it. To compound this, it is a brand that we have not used before. 

On top of that, the room will not be big enough to accommodate 12 pax comfortably (should everyone turn up). The room can only accommodate 10 pax.

We will need to spend about $150 for snacks and drinks.

Please let me know if you want me to book the conference room or make other venue arrangements.

Regards,

Tammy

____________________________________________________________________

These are factors to consider in ensuring a clear, logical, and accurate message:

(1) Ensure Logical Flow in Your Message

In the original message, the writer simply assumed that the reader would be able to follow the logical flow. However, the reader can only read the message, not the writer’s mind.

As such, create logical flow in the message by using appropriate linking words or phrases.

Are you:

  • Describing a cause-and-effect scenario? (as such, because of that, consequently, etc.)
  • Adding on details? (additionally, moreover, on top of that, etc.)
  • Describing additional concerns or problems? (to compound that, to make matters worse, more critically, etc.)
  • Showing contrast? (however, but, in spite of that, etc.)

Another way to create logical flow, simple but commonly overlooked, is the effective use of paragraphs. Use one paragraph for each key point. It makes it easier for the reader to follow the logical flow.

The reader should not be left struggling to connect the dots.

(2) Include Vital Details

Do not omit details that can increase understanding.

Example:

The room is not big enough to accommodate 12 pax and will not be conducive enough to hold this meeting.

(Has everyone confirmed their attendance, or has the writer assumed a maximum-attendance scenario? How many persons can the room accommodate?)

Revised:

The room will not be big enough to accommodate 12 pax comfortably (should everyone turn up). The room can only accommodate 10 pax.

(3) Include an Action or Expectation for the Reader

In this case, it would be easier for the reader to respond if the writer had included an action step:

Example:

Please let me know if you want me to book the conference room or make other venue arrangements.

____________________________________________________________________

Business writing should be about the reader. The objective should always be readability and clarity for the reader.

To sum it up, business writing should be clear, logical, and accurate.

 

 

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise, and Accurate?

Minutes should demonstrate your efforts at promoting good governance. They should document agreements reached, decisions made, and actions assigned during the meeting.

As such, they must be clear, precise and accurate.

Here are some actual examples of unclear minutes:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

Let’s see how each example is unclear:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

What does the word “noted” here really mean? The committee has been told about it? Or that they have pointed it out?

Write this in a more precise way.

Example

Sally Ling informed the committee that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

This is too vague to be any value as a record. What are the details of the discussion? What was the decision? Again, make it clear and precise.

Examples

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 June 2019.

(OR)

Regarding the new invoicing system, Sally Ling reported that:

  • Betty Lim (Finance Dept) has briefed all staff and vendors involved on the implementation plan.
  • Five IT technicians will be assigned to be on-call (round the clock) from 9 to 20 June 2019.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

In this extract, the passive voice has been used (It was clarified that… / This was decided… / This decision… should be taken up…)

The passive voice is not suitable for minute writing, because the writer is given the option of not including the active subject in the sentences. With this option, the subject is sometimes omitted, because it is easy to do that.

Once the subject is omitted, there is no record of who clarified issues, who made decisions, and who was assigned action points. In other words, accountability is not recorded.

Why Should You Care About Clarity, Preciseness and Accuracy in Your Minutes?

You should care because minutes are legal records, and they serve to:

  • Remind participants of discussions and agreements.
  • Remind participants of follow-up actions.
  • Serve as a record of discussions and decisions.
  • Help those not present to understand discussions and decisions.

Write your minutes with these objectives in mind. Be mindful of  what to include, and how clear and precise your recording needs to be.

Want to learn more? Attend our programme Writing Accurate and Effective Minutes on 28 August 2019.

Good Grammar – Just a Matter of Image?

In business writing, getting your grammar right is not just about projecting a professional image. It is also about conveying your message accurately, and not having it distorted by grammar mistakes.

Consider this sentence extracted from an actual email:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancel the order and refunded the money to the customer.

Some will argue that this is a small mistake. Just amend the tense form and the tenses will be consistent.

But is it really that simple? Which verb needs to be amended – “cancel” or “refunded”?

There are two possibilities:

(1) If the issue is now over, and the writer is recounting a past event, the correct sentence should be:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancelled the order and refunded the money to the customer.

(2) If the issue is still ongoing, and the writer is referring to it as a standard procedure, then the sentence should be:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancel the order and refund the money to the customer.

The differing tense forms (“cancel” and “refunded”) can confuse the reader. This is not a small mistake, and the writer has the responsibility to convey the message clearly.

Your readers cannot read your mind; they can only read your writing.

Slide1

This is just one example of how using grammar wrongly can change the intended meaning in your message.

Use grammar correctly in your business writing. If you don’t, it could just mean embarrassment, or it could result in a confusing message leading to miscommunication.

__________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

Three Sentence Structures to Use in Business Writing

In English, there are 4 sentence structures:

  • The Simple Sentence
  • The Compound Sentence
  • The Complex Sentence
  • The Compound-Complex Sentence

For business writing, I recommend that you use the first 3 structures.

I will tell you about the 3 recommended sentence structures, but first, here’s a quick explanation of what makes up a sentence.

What are Clauses?

Clauses are groups of words that make up sentences. There are 2 types of clauses:

(1) the independent clause (can exist on its own grammatically)

  • usually conveys the main idea(s) in the sentence

(Eg: Peter tested the machine)

(2) the dependent clause (cannot exist on its own grammatically)

  • usually conveys secondary idea(s) in the sentence

(Eg: but did not write the investigation report)

If you combine these 2 clauses, you can make a sentence.

(Eg:  Peter tested the machine  but did not write the investigation report.)

The 3 Recommended Sentence Structures for Business Writing

These are the 3 recommended structures for business writing:

(1) The Simple Sentence

The simple sentence consists of one independent clause.

Examples

– Peter tested the machine.

– He did not write the investigation report.

(2) The Compound Sentence

To explain this in the simplest way, the compound sentence consists of two independent clauses (joined with a linking device).

Examples

– Peter tested the machine, but he did not write the investigation report.

– Peter tested the machine; however, he did not write the investigation report.

– Peter tested the machine; he did not write the investigation report.

This structure is especially useful when you want to place equal emphasis (weightage) on both these ideas.

Slide1

(3) The Complex Sentence

Again, to explain this in the simplest way, the complex sentence consists of one independent clause and one dependent clause.

Example

– Peter tested the machine but did not write the investigation report.

This structure is especially useful when you want to place more emphasis (weightage) on one idea (independent clause) and less on the other (dependent clause).

Slide1

Summary

If you have only one idea to convey in a sentence, you will obviously use a simple sentence.

If you want to convey 2 ideas of equal weightage in a sentence, use the compound sentence.

If you have 2 ideas in your sentence, and you want to emphasise one over the other, use the complex sentence.

Application

In our daily writing, you will very often need to convey complex information.

Now that you know more about the 3 sentence structures you can use, put this knowledge into practice.

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How to Speak English Better Immediately

I know of many people who wish that they could speak English better. They do speak English, but they feel that they don’t speak it well enough.

Here are three things you can do to improve your spoken English immediately.

(1) Work on Your Articulation

There are some words that we don’t articulate correctly. We may not be able to correct all of them; however, we should at least work on the words we use regularly.

Don’t just rely on your instinct or copy what others are saying. There are ways of checking for articulation online (eg: dictionary.com).

Alternatively, learn the phonetic symbols so that you can confirm the articulation of words in a dictionary.

Examples of commonly mispronounced words:

–  Wednesday: The meeting is confirmed to run on wed-nes-day. (The correct articulation is wenzday.)

–  lavender: Our office is on la-VAN-da Street. (The correct articulation is LAIR-vender.)

–  colleague: Tom is my ker-league. (The correct articulation is KOR-league.)

(2) Manage Your Intonation

Intonation refers to the way your voice goes up and down in pitch when you speak.

Many people tend to speak with a rather flat or narrow intonation. This means that they place more or less equal stress on almost every word in their speech.

At other times, they don’t place any stress on key words, or they stress the wrong words.

For example, these sentences may convey different tones, even though the words are the same:

  • We ARE busy, and we will work on this tomorrow.
  • We are BUSY, and we will work on this tomorrow.
  • We are busy, and we WILL work on this tomorrow.
  • We are busy, and we will work on this TOMORROW.

English is a stress-based language, and people rely on your intonation to understand your meaning.

Intonation in your speech also shows emotion and enthusiasm, and these are important elements in communication.

(3) Be Mindful About Grammar

You cannot speak with incorrect grammar and hope that the listener will understand your intended meaning every time.

It is fun and easy to use Singlish when we speak, but when the message is critical and accuracy is important, be mindful of your grammar. Switch to standard English.

Why Should You Improve Your Spoken English?

At the workplace, when you speak clearly and correctly, you project enthusiasm and confidence, and you come across as being more professional.

Your overall professional image is determined by how you dress, how you act, and how you speak. Don’t let your spoken English be your weakest link.

 

5 Tips for Your Business Writing

Timm Gunn, co-host of the Emmy-winning reality show Project Runway, once said that in this Internet age, the word “manners” seems antiquated. Life moves so rapidly that it’s easy to feel justified in being rude.

Therefore, many people write short and curt messages. Others don’t acknowledge email. Yet others forget that their readers are busy, and have little time to read long and tedious messages.

Business writing is always about the reader – not the writer.

What is the point of showcasing your writing prowess, when your reader cannot understand your message easily?

And just because you have all the information, should you include it all to show the reader how much you know?

To make reading even more challenging, the tone is sometimes cold and unfriendly. This makes the reader feel uncertain or unwelcome.

Here are some quick tips for your writing:
(1)  Ensure logical flow in your writing – especially when the message is complex.  

Circle key words in your paragraphs, and see if they convey a logical sequence of ideas. Better still, plan your content before you start writing.

(2)  Eliminate old-fashioned words and phrases.   

“Attached herewith” and “the undersigned” come to mind. Others include “as per your message dated” and “pursuant to your email of”.

(3)  Keep sentences to below 20 words.  

Most people can follow the flow easily in a sentence that contains 20 words or fewer. Beyond that, this becomes a challenge.

(4)  Take some care with the layout.  

Use one paragraph for each key point, and leave a line-spacing between paragraphs. Use headings and lists where appropriate.

(5)  Eliminate grammar mistakes in your writing.  

Read a good grammar reference book or attend a grammar workshop if grammar is a challenge for you.

The way you write projects your professional image. Make sure it is a positive image.

 

Writing to Unhappy Customers?

When customers complain, it is easy to label them as being demanding or difficult. However, something could be causing them real distress.

Examples of Customer Complaints

Here are some examples of difficult customer service situations you may have to deal with in writing:

  • You are an environmental officer. A resident has complained about cigarette smoke wafting up from the unit below his.
  • You work in the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore’s land-use planning and conservation authority. Some residents have complained about the noise generated by diners at the restaurants at the foot of their apartment block at night.
  • You work in a hospital. A patient’s daughter has complained about the perceived poor treatment her father had received during his hospitalisation.
  • You work in a fashion boutique. A customer wants to return a dress she bought recently, but she has misplaced the receipt.
  • You work in a hotel. A guest has complained about having to pay extra for WIFI service in the room.

In each of these examples, there is a gap between what the customer expects and what the organisation can provide. This conflict must be managed carefully to preserve the goodwill.

The Challenges of Writing to Unhappy Customers

Unhappy customers could be asking for things you cannot provide, or asking for decisions you cannot make. It is difficult to say no to them and still preserve the relationship.

The key challenges in writing to them are:

  • You must explain the situation accurately and objectively.
  • You must manage your tone so that you don’t sound condescending or insincere.
  • Your writing must be clear and grammatically sound.
Write with a Positive Mindset

When you receive complaints and negative feedback, you decide how you want to react.

Here are some negative (but common) reactions:

  • Look for ways to defend yourself.
  • Mentally list incidents in the past that show how troublesome this customer can be.
  • Look for justifications to say no to the customer.
  • Forward it to someone else to handle.

Positive reactions would include empathising with the customer and looking for ways to make the customer feel better.

Writing to an unhappy customer is challenging, but it is worth the effort if you can retain the loyalty and confidence of the customer.

Don’t under-estimate the damage that an unhappy customer can do, especially with the many social media platforms today, where an unhappy customer can broadcast his or her unhappiness easily and widely.

Sharpen Your Written and Verbal Communication Skills

In today’s business world, where being connected is more crucial than ever, the ability to communicate effectively is highly sought-after.

If you provide administrative support in your organisation, you must be effective in both your written and verbal communications.

Written Communication

Written communication serves two purposes – to communicate (get a message across) and to document (put on record the communication).

Pay attention to your grammar and language. Know the level of formality you need for your written message, and use plain English and short words as much as possible.

Find out and use the acceptable formats required for different business documents – letters, email, reports, minutes, etc.

Your written communication must satisfy three criteria:

(1) It must be clear.

If you just need to communicate something, make sure that the message is clear and accurate. If you need to document the communication, include enough details to make it a complete record.

(2) It must be appropriately formal.

If you are writing to a close colleague, you can be less formal and more relaxed in your writing style. However, if you are writing to a superior or a customer, make sure you use an appropriately formal style.

(3) It must tell the reader what to do or expect.

Do not leave the reader guessing. Your message should have only one outcome – the outcome that you want. Not the outcome that the reader infers from your imprecise writing.

Verbal Communication

– Speaking in Front of an Audience

When you speak in front of an audience, consider these three aspects:

  • Visual aspect – Dress appropriately, and manage your body language to gain the confidence and respect of your audience.
  • Vocal aspect – Project your voice so that your audience does not need to strain to hear you. Articulate your words clearly and correctly.
  • Verbal aspect – Choose your words wisely. People form word associations, and your message can be influenced by your choice of words. For example, to tell your audience that you welcome them to do something is very different from saying you allow them to do something.

– Participating at Meetings

At meetings, make sure that you are seen and heard.

Be prepared, and project an organised and competent image. Lean forward, show interest in what others are saying, and contribute your ideas clearly and confidently.

Communication is the most important link in most operations. Effective communication means fewer delays, reworks, and mistakes.

Two Things You Must Know as a Secretary or Admin Support Professional

If you provide administrative support to your boss and your team, be proud of your job. You play an important part in your organisation’s admin support system.

Here are two things you must know in order to stand out as a valuable resource to your organisation:

(1) The Role You Are Playing

Your primary role is to support your boss and team.

To play this role well, you must understand the key objectives of your boss and team in the organisation. Is it to ensure customer satisfaction? Is it to generate revenue? Is it to work within a certain budget?

Knowing this is not enough. Use this knowledge. Make sure that the outcome of your tasks contributes toward these objectives.

For example, if you have to decide between outsourcing a service or doing it in-house, do not mindlessly consider the costs or the quality. Your consideration should be based on what your boss or the team is trying to achieve. Is it cost-efficiency or superior quality?

Apart from providing great support to your boss, be a team player. Ensure that office procedures are streamlined, and that communication among team members (including your boss) is smooth and effective.

(2) Acceptable Workplace Behaviour

Are you savvy about workplace behaviour? Do you unwittingly commit unintentional acts or make remarks that can affect your professional image?

Here are some quick rules of thumb regarding how you should behave at the workplace:

  • Show respect to everybody. Avoid name-calling or making derogatory remarks about people or situations.
  • Don’t share offensive jokes. (eg: jokes related to gender, religion, personal appearance, etc.)
  • Don’t flirt at the workplace. This can seriously undermine your credibility.
  • Manage conflict appropriately. Withdrawing and keeping silent when you are angry may be seen as being passive-aggressive, so whenever appropriate, talk things through with the other party.

Be friendly, respectful and dignified. This will earn you the respect and confidence of your boss and co-workers.