Business writing is an important, as well as a precise, type of writing that is often guided by specific procedures. As such, it should be approached with the appropriate seriousness, professionalism, precision and vocabulary. We learned last week that the language that characterizes business writing is properly referred to as gravitas. In the prevailing business environment, it is important to strike a careful balance between gravitas and flexibility. This is because in spite of the seriousness that is often expected to accompany most business writing, one wouldn’t want to come off as rigid or taking oneself too seriously. The seriousness of language should communicate confidence, poise, decisiveness as well as an ability to act under pressure. Similarly, language should be flexible enough to assure your business associates of a your creativity and innovation.
When treading the tenuous line between gravitas and flexibility, it is important to avoid the usage of non-standard usage of English. A recurrent usage of non-standard English can cause you to come across as ignorant or even worse, as uneducated. What exactly do we mean by ‘non-standard English’? There are a few words and grammatical constructions that are strictly meant for informal usage within the borders of Ghana. Using such constructions instead of standard grammar does not communicate that you are informed about the latest trends or that you are relatable. On the contrary, it can confuse your audience or worse, cause them to think that you are sloppy and inarticulate.
Secondly, when people get to writing business pieces, it is often tempting for them to adopt what George Orwell refers to as ‘operators or verbal false limbs’ such as “render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part etc.” The belief, I think, is that such phrases carry a certain sophistication that is fitting for business. This isn’t always the case as more often than not, these operators makes communication stiff and boring, which may not auger well for business interactions.
In striking a balance between gravitas and flexibility, ask yourself these questions. The answers will help in making you the better communicator you desire to be:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it simply and precisely?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably informal, vulgar or unnecessary?