If you have taken management development
or supervisory training courses, you are
probably familiar with communication style differences.
Perhaps you have studied Wilson Learning’s
four social styles: driver, analytical, amiable,
and expressive. Or maybe you have delved into the
16 Myers-Briggs types, with varying combinations
of introversion vs. extraversion, feeling vs. thinking,
and the rest. Or you may have learned a different
the approach, it’s essential
to recognize that people communicate differently. When
we are aware of style differences and preferences,
we can adapt to them and communicate better with
people who are different from us.
Style differences apply to readers too. When
you are aware of the preferences of your readers,
you can write to them in ways that make it easy for
them to respond promptly and positively. That
is a valuable business writing skill.
Here are four styles of business readers, their
needs, and ways to recognize them:
- The Tell Me Everything Reader
- The Just Give Me the Facts Reader
- The Be Nice to Me Reader
- The Be Interesting Reader
Tell Me Everything
Tell Me Everything reader needs plenty of details,
along with sources for more information. When
writing to this type, anticipate and answer all
questions. Generally, begin with an executive
summary, lay out the key points, provide details,
describe alternatives, and list possible next steps.
How to recognize this reader: People
who read your in-depth reports in their entirety
are Tell Me Everything readers. Their own writing
tends to be detailed and long. If your reader
routinely asks for more information, you are almost
certainly dealing with a Tell Me Everything reader
whose needs aren’t being met. That may mean
you need to add more data, illustrations, or analysis
to your next communication.
Just Give Me the Facts
Needs: This speed-reader needs
just the facts. When writing to this type, be very
concise. Use an action-oriented subject line, a one-sentence
summary, crisp bullet points, a quick conclusion,
and your name and phone number.
How to recognize this reader: The
best evidence of Just Give Me the Facts readers
may be their not having read your messages. A typical
response from them in conversation is “I haven’t
read your email yet—summarize it for me.” In
writing, they usually respond concisely—sometimes
with a bit less information than their own readers
Be Nice to Me
than other types, Be Nice to Me readers need
to be recognized as people. They prefer friendly,
courteous language and sincere individual comments.
They also want people issues to be addressed.
For instance, in a message about an unpopular change
in parking policies, Be Nice to Me readers
need you to tell what’s being
done to lessen the impact on employees and visitors.
How to recognize this reader: You
may recognize Be Nice to Me types by their messages
to you. For instance, if you send a thoughtful thank-you
note to five team members for their special efforts,
the Be Nice to Me reader will write back to thank you for
your note. In email, these types often include a
question about your vacation or your family. If you
miss the mark when writing to them by being abrupt
or all business, they may seem concerned or slightly
Interesting readers need evocative stories,
rich metaphors, and thought-provoking scenarios.
They need big-picture visions and inventive thinking.
They need to be engaged. Because most business
writing concisely communicates routine information,
these readers go through most days uninspired
by what appears on their screens. When you give
them something special, you get their attention.
How to recognize this reader:
When you go out on a limb with an analogy,
a scenario, or a vision of the future, this reader
is likely to phone or write to you, raving, “I loved
your report! It’s the best one yet.” Until
you match that effort, you probably won’t
hear from him or her again. In their own writing,
Be Interesting types may not get to the point
or provide relevant details, since they are focusing
on something more interesting to them.
Adapting to Style Differences in Writing
you know your reader’s preferred
style, make your best effort to write
for that individual, especially if it’s a
key client or your boss. And when writing to a
group of readers, try to provide something for
all of them.
For your Tell Me Everything readers,
attach additional data and provide sources for more
For your Just Give Me the Facts readers,
use precise headings so that they can skim and skip
to their bottom line.
For your Be Nice to Me readers,
include Please, Many thanks, and Have
a good trip, along with relevant human factors.
For your Be Interesting readers,
refer to the big picture or the future. If possible,
include an engaging question such as “What
if for just one day all of us challenged conventional
Adapting to communication style differences
may seem like an awesome task. But it is possible
to include the four items above without much difficulty,
and meeting the needs of your readers nearly always
pays off in time saved and goals met.
The next time you think about the style
differences you face, remember: Those differences
exist among your readers too. Take steps
to adapt your writing style and substance to your
readers’ different needs, and you will be
honing a valuable business writing skill—communicating
effectively with many different people.