8/1/2001 | 5 MINUTE READ

In Praise of Memos

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Properly used, the memo can be a powerful communications tool.


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Properly used, the memo can be a powerful communications tool. Besides making things clearer, memos establish a record and contribute to more effective business relationships. With a memo you can be absolutely sure that a request and due date are as clear as possible. You can avoid lengthy, time-consuming conversations by clearly stating the facts in advance. If the recipient of a memo has questions, he can come back to you. The purpose of a good memo, however, is to preclude questions through careful thinking in the first place.

As a record of your activities, memos can be especially valuable. They are particularly handy when a new person joins your department, for they comprise a ready record that can bring the new person up-to-date on recent developments.

The memo has another important function: Accountability. If something goes wrong, chances are someone "goofed." This is not always true—only 99 percent of the time. Memos, properly used, thus establish accountability 99 percent of the time when things don't work out as originally intended.

Rightly used, a memo permits a person to fulfill another's request effectively and efficiently while taking up a minimum of time in passing along the information.

An additional advantage: The memo can be helpful when you must deal with people who, no matter how hard you try, just don't seem to be your type. A memo limits that danger area of personal contact, while at the same time giving them all they require from you in a usable form.

Of course, how memos help you get ahead depends on how good they are. They don't have to be literary gems. But they do have to be clear, understandable, and to the point. The best memos include a clear statement of purpose—why it was written.

Finally, the memo should state what is expected of the recipient and by what deadline, for we all tend to function more smoothly when we know what is expected of us.

How Well Do You Delegate?

  1. Do you and your people agree on what results are expected of them?
  2. Do you and they agree on measures of performances?
  3. Do your people feel they have enough authority over their people?
  4. Do they feel they have sufficient authority concerning their resources?
  5. Within the last six months what additional authority have you delegated?
  6. What more do your subordinates think should be delegated to them?
  7. Is accountability fixed for every delegated responsibility? Is your follow-up adequate?
  8. Are you accessible when your people need to see you?
  9. Do your people fail to seek or accept additional responsibility?
  10. What interferes with the effective use of your management time?
  11. Do you bypass your people by making decisions that are part of their jobs?
  12. Do you do things your subordinates should do? Why?
  13. How could you best improve your delegation?
  14. If you were incapacitated for six months, who would take your place?
  15. Have you ever asked your subordinates individually, "What could I do, refrain from doing, or do differently that could help you do a better job?"

Psychology Tip: You Get What You Give
People tend to respond to the attitudes and actions expressed by others in similar ways. Act politely toward someone and he will respond in kind. Display hostility and you will also get back what you give. There is an unconscious urge to live up—or down—to the opinions others appear to demonstrate toward us.

There is nothing mysterious about this except the amazing results that come when you begin to put this law into effect.

For example, the Speech Research Unit of Kenyon College proved that when someone is shouted at, he cannot help but shout back, even when he can't see the speaker.

Tests were run over telephones and intercoms to determine optimum degrees of loudness for giving instructions and commands. In the experiments, the speaker asked simple questions, each in varying degrees of loudness. The responses always mirrored the questions. When the question was asked loudly, the answer was as loud.

Conclusion: No matter how hard they tried, people on the receiving end could not help but be influenced by the tones of the speaker.

This psychological fact suggests that we can all exert a great deal of control over the emotions of those with whom we deal simply through the tone of voice we choose to use. For example, when a situation threatens to become explosive or get out of hand, you can—by deliberately lowering the tone of your voice—compel the other person to keep his voice soft also.

Of course, if you permit anger to build up, this ploy is not likely to work, but you can turn anger away before it builds up by using this technique.

Speaking Tips
Few of us can hope to become Daniel Websters or Winston Churchills, but we can take steps to assure that when we do speak, people will pay attention.

The trouble with most speeches is that they suffer from extraneous verbiage—too much shell, not enough kernel. Their deliveries labor under various delusions:

  • That they must tell stories, appropriate or not.
  • That they must apologize and explain and make introductory remarks.
  • That they must introduce a lot of statistics or technical detail.
  • That their duty is to entertain.
  • That they must gallop along with their speech at top speed.
  • That they can talk without preparation or without material containing information of any consequence.
  • That they can trust entirely to their memories, their wits and their knowledge of the subject.
  • That they can speak, and be heard, without adjusting their voices when the meeting room's acoustical conditions are untested and questionable.
  • That a speaker's position or prestige is enough to insure the success of a speech.

Avoid these assumptions and your own talks are bound to improve.

Don't Just Stand There!

"Words fail me."

We've all used that expression at one time or another and sometimes it's true: sometimes words aren't enough to clarify a thought. When they aren't, it's time to use action.

By doing something or showing something to your audience, you can frequently clarify in an instant what might otherwise require many minutes, even hours, of talking. It is, for example, a great deal easier to demonstrate how to ride a bicycle than to verbalize it.

A demonstration packs a greater wallop than words, too, because it immediately translates an abstract concept into a visible reality. A good salesperson, for example, won't tell you, "These trousers are wrinkle resistant," and leave it at that. He will deliberately and ceremoniously tie a knot in one pants leg, tighten it with a grunt, then untie it for your inspection.

The plain fact is that everyone enjoys a show. We are attracted by and pay attention to movement, action, things happening. We put more credence in our eyes than in our ears. And we appreciate the change of pace from words, words, words to action.

Therefore, whenever possible, demonstrate and dramatize your message. Draw a picture. Pass around a chart for inspection. Show a photograph, a blueprint, a scale model. Write something on a blackboard. Point to a piece of equipment. Ask someone to throw a switch. Flip a coin. Strike a gong if it will drive home your point.

The point is, don't just stand there—do something. Something that will help clarify what you have just said, emphasize what you are saying, or call attention to what you are about to say.