A writing skill that'll win friends and influence others

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A reader wrote in recently and asked an interesting question:

“How do I be concise but not curt in my writing?”

Their question was regarding business communication — emails, Slack messages, etc.

It’s a brilliant question.

So much of our day-to-day communication now is text-based.

In text-based communication, it’s easy for tone and intent to get lost.

I saw this all the time at my last company.

Someone would say something short in Slack, and someone else would interpret a negative tone or intent that wasn’t there.

Effective communicators understand how easily tone and intent can get lost in writing, and they work hard to write in a way where it doesn’t.

Here are 5 tips on how to write concisely and still come across polite, respectful and friendly:

1. Use greetings

A simple greeting can completely change the tone of a message.

Pretend you got this message from your boss:

“When will the report be done?”

Most likely, your boss just wants an update.

But this is a curt message, and the tone could be misinterpreted as annoyed, frustrated or some other negative emotion.

Now, pretend you got this message:

“Hey there — when will the report be done?”

The only difference is a two-word greeting, but it conveys a sense of friendliness and thus reduces the chances that the tone is misinterpreted.

Simple greetings take two seconds to write and have a big impact.

2. Use names

This feels obvious, but I’m always surprised how little it’s used in digital communication.

In a short message, use the person’s name.

Instead of: “Do you have the information I requested?”

Write: “Hi Lisa - do you have the information I requested?”

Again, it projects friendliness and a sense of courtesy.

And it takes less than a second to add.

3. Use punctuation

Not everyone is an exclamation point fan, but they can be an effective communication tool.

Exclamation points communicate a sense of excitement, enthusiasm and energy (positive emotions).

Instead of: “We’ll find out.”

Add an exclamation point: “We’ll find out!”

One character of punctuation totally changes the tone.

Don’t use this if it’s not part of your communication style, but I’d encourage you to mix it in.

If you normally have a more serious communication style, an occasional exclamation point holds even more weight.

4. Use emojis (if that’s your thing)

I have a love-hate relationship with emojis.

On one hand, they can be a genius communication tool. They’re highly effective at conveying emotion and complementing written speech.

On the other hand, they can be overdone.

That said, use them to your advantage if it fits your communication style.

An example:

“Good job on the call.”

“Good job on the call 😀”

A little emoji can go a long way.

5. Use gratitude

Lastly, simple phrases of gratitude go a long way in reflecting tone.

Let’s say you’re sending a message to a colleague asking them to update you when their part of a project is done.

Here’s one way to do it: “Please update me when your work is done.”

And here’s some gratitude mixed in: “Please update me when your work is done. I appreciate you!”

It took almost zero extra effort or time to add “I appreciate you!” to that message, and yet it will be received completely differently by the person on the other end.


To recap, 5 simple tips to write concisely and not come across as curt:

  • Use emojis

  • Use names

  • Use gratitude

  • Use greetings

  • Use punctuation

Use what fits your communication style and the situation. Context matters.

However, if you can master this skill and be aware of how you sound in writing, you will build stronger relationships and build influence with others.

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