Customers value reports from their consultants in human resources, engineering, project management and organizational development. But it is easy for consultants to fall into writing traps that undermine their advice and their credibility.
Are you guilty of the following writing mistakes?
Mistake 1: Revealing your frustrations with the problems you were asked to sort out. Consider the customer’s reaction to the consultant who wrote “This problem could have been solved months ago if anyone cared.” You’re a professional. If you wouldn’t say something out loud, don’t put it in writing. If you would say it out loud, think twice before committing it to paper. Face-to-face you can save a situation if needed. When a report is being read, you may not be there.
Mistake 2: Putting yourself in the middle of rumors: “The staff gave two reasons why the monthly meetings were stopped.” Discover the facts or identify a rumor as a rumor or shelve the information.
Mistake 3: Switching audiences in mid-stream. It might be tempting to include information that lets the CEO know how you really feel about the department head who hired your services. But keep your loyalties and information focused on the needs of the customer who hired you.
Mistake 4: Mixing business with business. An announcement of your resignation, a discussion of payment due or any other business activity belongs in a separate document.
Mistake 5: Pointing all the blame at one individual: “Everyone says that the foreman sticks his nose into everyone’s business.” Are you sure that “everyone” will back you up when the report becomes public? Describe the problem; most people can figure out for themselves who caused it.
Do you know how to restore objectivity?
To restore objectivity, you have two choices. The first option requires time. You must put the report aside for at least 24 hours but preferably longer. No matter how objective you feel you’ve been, after you put the report aside you’ll find places where your language was too harsh, your perspective shifted or your advice depended on unverifiable information. Before you deliver your report, shut it away, don’t look at it and don’t even think about it. Then go through it again from the perspective of your customer. If you decide someone else in your company should review your report, make sure you ask only one or two people. Everyone has his or her own style, and few amateur editors are willing to relinquish their prejudices. If you ask 10 people for opinions, you’ll receive 10 contradictory rewrites. You don’t need the hassle.
Your second choice is to rely on a professional editor whose sole function is to make sure your report says what you intended it to say. This takes less time and you are doing exactly what you ask your customers to do: turning to an expert.