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You will never regret being too kind

“You will regret many things in life, but you will never regret being too kind or too fair” Brian Tracy

I recently ran an Effective Business Writing course for the employees of a care home business based in the north of England, although they have homes throughout the UK. It’s a sector I didn’t know much about but, with my auditor hat on, I was keen to find out about the participants’ roles and why they felt that business writing was something that was relevant to them. The jobs were varied – from HR staff to members of the IT team, secretaries to the catering manager. But in all cases, they felt that it was really important to get their point across either to help somebody make a decision or take specific action – and, let’s face it, those are the two main purposes for any business document.

However, the interesting bit here was how their answers linked into the organisation’s values. On their literature and website, ‘kind’ features prominently; they want every resident and their relatives “to trust that the care they will receive will be delivered with kindness, thoughtfulness and respect, in a safe, warm, comfortable and welcoming environment.” Their website goes on to say that they want their homes to be “the kindest homes in the UK with the kindest and most professional staff, where each and every one matters and every one can make a difference.” They also state that they want their staff “to be the kindest people from these communities: life’s natural care givers, the unsung heroes who make the world a better, warmer place for the rest of us.”

So, what has that got to do with effective business writing? Surely, it’s just a branding exercise that any caring organisation might identify with. Or, at least, we might reasonably run a mile from a care home that offered the opposite.

I was fortunate that on the day of the course, in the meeting room opposite where we were, the board was having its monthly gathering. The HR director greeted me when I arrived and explained that she wouldn’t be able to join the course, as she had to be in the other meeting, especially as the chairman was there specifically. She asked if he might come in and hear what I was covering at some point. I could hardly refuse, although I was slightly nervous because this was the first training on this theme being offered by the company I was representing. I obviously didn’t want to screw up!

In the session after lunch, he crept in and sat at the back of the room. The participants all seemed to sit up straighter and become even more attentive. We were talking about the tone of voice in documents and, after listening for a few moments, he got to his feet and came to the front of the room. He introduced himself by saying how passionate he was about getting communications right and felt he ought to add his ‘take’ on the content to make it even more pertinent to the participants.

He explained that it was crucial to bring out the value of kindness in all their communications and urged participants to make every letter kinder. In this day of instant communication via email, SMS and social media, he took time to explain that they should expect to write proper letters with a traditional format, language and tone of voice for at least the next generation and possibly the next two, as the typical profile of their ‘clients’ is 75 years plus (and, therefore, many of their relatives are in their fifties). This really struck a chord with me; there is much talk of the silver surfer and many older people are really quite proficient with email, Skype and so on. But, at such difficult times towards the end of people’s lives, they don’t want to have to visit a website or fill in a contact form. They certainly don’t want to hear corporate speak, be overwhelmed by policy or be given excuses about why things can’t be done. They will, however, appreciate being written to and getting the information they need clearly, simply and kindly.

And his delivery matched his words precisely. He was the epitome of charisma, with a gentle, charming and concerned style. On my courses, I often talk about adapting your writing style to suit your target audience – getting the tone right; but he really brought that sentiment to life. I consider myself fortunate to have heard him speak so passionately and I feel, with that attitude at the top, the organisation ought to be in safe hands.