1

We have some employees who frequently communicate with customers. These employees are native English speakers and yet somehow their written communications come across as though they really struggle with the language. It is difficult, because many sentences do not make sense in the body of a communication. I'm not talking about incorrect uses of there and their (although that also happens). The main issue, other than unclear information being disseminated is that we cannot have them help with online product content for their accounts (which we need to do), because we are not confident in their written skills.

What is the most tactful and respectful way to let a colleague know that when they type emails and other written communications, they need to use more care.

What techniques have others used that were helpful?

In terms of verbal skills, there are no issues. It just seems like they are trying to fly through things too quickly, perhaps, and frequently use some flourishes that just do not make sense. This is a regular issue that really needs to be addressed, not one email out of 100 - it is almost everything they type. I am not their manager, but they work on things for my department, so I don't want it to feel like a reprimand by going to their boss about it. Just looking for friendly ways to say "You need to proof read what you're sending".

  • 1
    Hi! Would you be willing/able to help them proofread, or is there a person/place where they can go to have their e-mails proofread? And what is the general culture surrounding the giving of feedback at your workplace, any reason you believe that doesn't apply here? – Tinkeringbell May 7 at 15:59
  • 2
    Are you sure it would help to make them read their text again? There are people who simply are bad in writing their native language or in communication in general. Then it only helps to give them other tasks. And to test next employees on their abilities. – puck May 7 at 17:36
  • 2
    @Tinkeringbell We have a small org, there arent a lot of co-workers or "other people" or processes for anything like this. I'm willing to help but starting the conversation is the hard part... – JenInCode May 7 at 17:42
  • @puck I am certainly not sure it would make sense to have them proof read their own work - looking for ways to either a) find a nice way to tell them how they come across or b) some out of the box solution. I'd rather not drag them out of the communication process altogether, but rather help them fix it. We do need to test new people, but the ones i'm talking about have worked here 20 years. Hard to correct now... – JenInCode May 7 at 17:43
  • 1
    @puck I think I'm pretty good at my native language (well, really my only language, English), but I always reread any email or other communication I'm sending out because my first wording is often unclear. Sometimes I change my thoughts in the middle, change tense, etc. I initially use pronouns in ways that are ambiguous. Rereading can make these problems pretty obvious, IF the person actually does take a moment and rereads. – DaveG May 7 at 19:19
4

In my experience, most people - no matter how much they claim to appreciate constructive criticism - detest having their spelling or grammar corrected. Common exceptions to this are people learning a language, while native speakers (more germane to your question) exist on the other end of the spectrum.

I don't think letting people know they need to use more care would solve this problem. Since these are native speakers, and as you've pointed out, have no issues with verbal communication, this is most likely the result of long-term bad habits in written communication. One or two conversations are unlikely to change a well-formed bad habit.

If I were in your shoes, here's what I'd do:

  1. Collate anonymized excerpts from some of these outgoing communications that illustrate there is a problem. These have to be generic sentences that would be difficult to tie back to a specific individual. Ideally, the writer should read it and say "Wow, that's awful" without realizing they wrote it. That way getting people's buy-in to the existence of a problem and the need to solve it isn't a problem.
  2. Take this list to someone that has the power to implement one or both of the habit correcting changes suggested below

    • Install a grammar checking software that reviews all outgoing communications and points out potential errors for correction in real-time
    • Have a random selection of emails reviewed periodically. Having someone external do this is ideal (a freelance English teacher for example) as it removes all the potential friction and discomfort that held you back from speaking out about this

I totally feel your pain on this issue. It has taken me a long while, but i'm finally comfortable with bad written English by apparent native speakers all across the internet. I mean, "must of" will soon be considered correct English at this rate. However, business communication should be the exception to whatever mistakes we're willing to accept. It represents the devaluation of brands and puts a question mark around the accuracy/competence of the writer and by extension, the company. You're right to be disturbed by it.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.