Notes on Writing Formal Business Letters and Emails

In a few posts, I’m doing a write-up of my notes following a Lynda course. This course is less than 40 min, but I thought it had some good tips, shown below.

 

Define Your Goals
  • First a short-term goal (or want), then the longer term goal.
  • Short-term goal is something you want someone to do right away. Action items; “Call me at…”
  • Long-term goal is what you want them to do for a bigger purpose. “I’m looking for help on….”
Research
  • Researching your topic: For instance, if replying to a job description use the language in the job post in your correspondence.
  • Researching your correspondent: Maybe you can find someone specific to send your correspondence to by searching for people on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. When reaching out, “My research shows you’re the best person to contact. If not…”.
For Tone

The presenter suggested using a website like bab.la for phrases, especially in other languages.

Getting to the Point
  • Put the goal up front
  • Remove confusing details
  • Rearrange and check punctuation
  • Cut out unnecessary words
Phrasal Verbs vs Direct Verbs; Idioms
  • Be direct. The second phrases below are indirect and passive:
    • “I analyzed…” vs “I looked over…”
    • “I hope to…” vs “I had been hoping…”
  • Idioms: Just write it out. Idioms can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Follow-Up: TAP – Timeline, Alternatives, Peskiness
  • Timeline: Do you need to follow up because you need an answer?
  • Alternatives: Can you get this info from another source?
  • Peskiness: What will be the downside of following up?

Remember: Don’t assume malice or argue.

Here’s an example: I’m afraid I didn’t get a response to our letter on June 15 about booth space. A prompt reply would be appreciated as we are trying to finalize our travel arrangements. Thank you.

Rule of Thumb for Following Up
  • Don’t follow through using multiple venues. Don’t follow up through email, phone, LinkedIn, etc.
  • If you send an email and get no reply, it’s OK to ask via one other outlet if someone got your email. But don’t bombard them on LinkedIn and Twitter and phone, etc.
  • This was a tip for me, because I had been thinking the more the better!
Continuing the Conversation
  • Keep note of other email addresses, and other people in a CC.
  • People can be generous, if they’re asked. Just be polite.
3 Takeaways
  • Be concise
  • Cooperate
  • There’s a person on the other end
Final Tip

If you ever find yourself stuck with what to say, try recording yourself speaking then transcribing your message.

UX Camp 2019

On Saturday June 29, 2019, I found myself again at UX Camp. UX Camp, which I also attended and wrote about 2 years ago, is an “unconference” which means that there is not set schedule of topics or speakers. Instead, the participants come up with the schedule by proposing talks they want to talk about. (Then the organizers choose the time and which room.) This year’s UX Camp was again held at General Assembly.

As this was my second time going, I tried to be a little more social and chit-chat with other participants. Unfortunately, Jared Spool and Dave Malouf weren’t in attendance. Jared Spool is a great speaker — here’s a video I watched recently. However, I decided to not only get over my fears of small talk, but also get over my fear of presenting my ideas in public. So I gave a presentation, based on one of my favorite prior blog posts of this year, “My Favorite Pro-Tips from NYPL Experts on Crafting a Resume”!

Ok, only a few people attended, but presenting was a very satisfying experience.

Most of the people who signed up to lead sessions did not have slides. I did because I based them on my blog post, so it was relatively easy to put the deck together because my thoughts were already written and organized.

 

Overview

Other than my own presentation, here are a few sessions I attended:

Interviewing

One of the participants wanted to discuss interviewing, because she found herself in a new situation and was curious about other people’s experiences. I used the opportunity to make a comment on my observations about what UX hiring managers are looking for, especially regarding portfolios, according to the articles I’ve researched online.

Mentorship

This was kind of a workshop about mentorship. We spent a bit of time discussing our experiences with mentorship. After getting through everyone, the speaker led us through an exercise where we discussed what a mentor is and is not.

First, a mentor is not:

  • a parent
  • going to punish you
  • responsible for your career
  • necessarily your boss, but could be

A mentor is:

  • Someone who has achieved what you want to achieve. Someone said, “They only need to be one step ahead of you.”
  • Has current knowledge about the job, current events, etc
  • A champion for your success

We then broke out in small groups to talk about: How to create boundaries, Framing your conversation (with your mentor); and Getting from having no mentor to having a mentor. Afterwards, we shared our discussions.
Tips on Working with a Mentor

  • Respect the time of your mentor. Pretend your mentor has 100 mentees
  • Be responsive and be clear about what you want.
  • Fully implement their advice and then follow up with them with the results
  • Boosters; some people really like to help others
  • Be willing to provide value to the mentor

A book mentioned was the 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton.

Visual Storytelling

Another talk I went to was by an architect who was a very talented illustrator and hoping to break into product design. His talk was on Visual Storytelling.

He showed us some examples of his work and we discussed the story he was trying to tell with his images. He also discussed his process a little.

Some tips I got from him about visual storytelling:
– Pick key moments to visualize
– Show only 1 (one) idea per image
– Include enough relevant information, but don’t go overboard in detail

I wanted to ask him questions about design and improving in visual design, but when I tried to ask my questions, I found that my anxieties about improving in design only aided in making my words come out jumbled. He tried to answer anyway and suggested that just knowing what’s good design and what’s not good is OK.

I like his tips — very clear and straightforward.

Cultural Relevancy and Experience Design

The very last talk I went to was about Cultural Relevancy and Experience Design. It was a very interesting topic. The speaker shared with us situations in which technology (sensors, photography) failed her in key moments due to the technology not being tested on a diverse audience. It’s true that some sensors are poorly calibrated to pick up darker skin tones. For instance, “self-driving vehicles may have a harder time detecting people with dark skin”. It’s probably not because the technology cannot do it, but because it’s not being testing for a variety of skin tones. https://www.businessinsider.com/self-driving-cars-worse-at-detecting-dark-skin-study-says-2019-3

I also got some recommendations for books:
– Design in The Era of the Algorithm
– Politics of Design
– Mismatched

Conclusion

Although I missed seeing some well-known names at the conference, I still got something out of it — namely public speaking experience.

Notes on Interpersonal Communication

After giving a few recommendations to an acquaintance about my favorite online learning platform, Lynda, I recently watched one of the courses I suggested called Interpersonal Communication. This course is taught by Dorie Clark, who teaches several other business communications courses.

I don’t always take notes, but this time I took a decent amount. I am hoping that re-writing them on my blog, this will help me remember in the moment. (It also helps me throw away some of the papers piling up on my desk.)


9 Notes on Interpersonal Communication

1. How to Make Requests Effectively

Dig your well before you’re thirsty.

  1. Invest in favors before making them.
  2. Explain the context of your request.
  3. Acknowledge you’re requesting a favor. “Thank you for the favor.”
  4. Indicate where your interests are aligned.
  5. Express genuine gratitude.

2. Communicating by Phone or Email?

If it’s a boss or power broker, do they have an opinion or a preference about which they prefer? If so, choose what they prefer. Otherwise, some tips on email vs phone, and benefits of each:

Benefits of Email

  • Simple information
  • Different time zones, travel, late at night
  • Dealing with a talkative person

Benefits of Phone

  • Brainstorming or Troubleshooting
  • Emotional conversation

3. How to Interpret Non-Verbal Cues and What to Watch Out for In Yourself:

She might be cold, but crossed arms signals “closed” body language.
  • (Micro) Expressions of contempt (especially those brief expressions in yourself)
  • Open vs Closed body language
  • Check the direction of the feet; where are they pointed
  • Mismatched facial expressions

 

4. Communicating with Your Supervisor

Manage expectations by ranking projects.

Get the guidance you need:

  • Have a conversation about how to have conversations. [WARNING] – This will be uncomfortable.
  • Develop an emergency plan, on what to do when your supervisor cannot be reached.
  • Create an operating manual for your job.

Ask the right questions:

  • What can I do that’s most helpful for you right now?
  • How can I prioritize that?
  • Do you see anything that I’m missing?

5. Meetings

Notes on when to speak up in meetings and when to listen:

  • Listen when you don’t know the context
  • Listen when you don’t have a strong opinion
  • Speak when you have relevant experience
  • Speak if you have useful resources
  • Speak if you do have a strong opinion
  • Speak if you have key questions

6. Managing Tricky Communications

Can occur in cross-cultural scenarios when some culture explain things with direct language and some use indirect. Ex: Germany (direct), the US (mostly direct), and Japan (indirect).

In addition, some cultures are very formal and others are more informal. Ex: In the US, using an honorific title like Director or Chairman to refer to someone is way too formal, but some countries it’s standard.

Reference to work done by Andy Molinsky.

7. Interpreting Interruptions

  • Why are they interrupting?
  • Do they want more detail?
  • Is it a culture of interruptions or just one person?

Solutions

  • Talk one on one: Bob, you interrupted me 3 times. If Bob protests: I’m sure you didn’t intend it, but my impression was that you interrupted me 3 times.
  • Change the system: Talk to your manager and take note. Choose an interruption monitor for meetings. Ask meeting organizers to stop interruptions.

8. Responding to Critical Feedback

The most important rule is: know who to take feedback from! There are only two sources of feedback:

  1. Your boss (or client or professor).
  2. Anyone you ask for feedback.

If it’s anyone else, their opinion is not important. 

Other Tips:

  • Don’t respond immediately to feedback. Give yourself time to reflect.
  • If you’re worried about negative feedback: Think of worse-case scenarios between you and your boss. Write down possible criticisms and then your solutions.

9. Communicating as an Introvert

The office is optimized for extroversion, but you can play to your strengths:

  • Get an agenda before the meeting and share your thoughts in written format (even before the meeting).
  • Get a friend to advocate for you, and you can advocate for an introvert.
  • Try creating talking points
  • Create challenges: Ex: “I’m going to be the first to speak up.”
  • Do more pre-work.

 


Conclusion

If you’re interested in this course, here’s an overview:

Communicating effectively isn’t an innate talent that some people have and others don’t—it’s something that anyone can learn and practice. In this course, learn strategies that can help you hone and master your interpersonal communication skills.

Join personal branding and career expert Dorie Clark as she shares techniques for getting your message across effectively in the workplace, and explains how to tackle potential communication challenges with your colleagues and supervisor. She also discusses how to grapple with tricky situations, taking you through how to handle interruptions, respond to critical feedback, and communicate across cultures.

This course was released 6/13/2017 and rated “Beginner” skill level. So fairly recent and open to everyone. Also it’s only 37m 7s, so easy to fit into a day.

I saw a few more courses I didn’t know about on her author page, about how to hold yourself accountable and body language for women — also around 30 minutes. Maybe I’ll take those and write more notes.

Update to Free Skillshare Courses: Typography That Works

Not too long ago, I wrote a short post about some free Skillshare courses on typography, presented by Ellen Lupton. What I didn’t write was that for one of those classes, Typography That Works: Typographic Composition and Fonts, I did some of the projects.

Screenshot from skillshare
Typography That Works: Typographic Composition and Fonts

The assignment for this short workshop is to create a few business cards. The first card uses different layout techniques to add hierarchy, interest, and symmetry or asymmetry. The second card is a literary style business card, which looks like a paragraph of text. The third is using one word to create custom letterforms to create a business card.

The first two projects should probably be done in InDesign. The last in Illustrator or some other vector program.

I haven’t yet gotten to the third card project, but here are my first two business cards.

These cards are based on a typography and graphic design project for a business called “Madison To Go”. The business theme is “fresh”. In a previous menu project (see below), I used the font Brandon Grotesque as the body font, but the literary style card with Arno Pro looks really good. I’d have to recreate the menu with Arno Pro to see if it conveyed the same feeling.

Menu for Madison To Go