Nov 182008
Aer Lingus A320 EI-CVC

Image by caribb via Flickr

Last week Irish trade union SIPTU sent a letter to Aer Lingus letting them know that its members have approved strike action if the airline proceeds with plans to axe around 1,300 jobs.

While I feel for the Aer Lingus workers’ plight… I really do, reading part of the letter (released into the public domain as part of a SIPTU press release) made me cringe.

In a couple of paragraphs it demonstrates everything that’s wrong with communication in the workplace. It’s pompous and utterly unintelligible business writing at its very worst. Here’s an extract from the letter to show you what I mean.

This decision of our members in the Aer Lingus Branch, Cork No. 5 Branch and Shannon Aviation Branch has now been sanctioned by the National Executive of SIPTU and you are hereby served with fourteen days official notice of same.

Following the expiry of notice the decision will be activated as decided by the Union arising from the unilateral implementation by the company proceeding to implement new or changed terms and conditions of employment without agreement contained in their proposals of October 6, 2008 or any variation thereof. In this connection you should note that the sanction covers strike action and the full withdrawal of labour with the placing of pickets on the company locations, and [for] industrial action which is [for] limited work stoppages with the withdrawal of labour and the placing of pickets on … company locations. The nature, timing and duration of any or all of the foregoing will be determined by the Union.

Again, please… clearly, and in English this time! Reading the above made my heart sink, and my head hurt.

If workers, or anybody else for that matter, really want to get their message across they need to stop trying to sound important by throwing in formal, over elaborate and superfluous verbiage (much as I did there ;-)), and start writing clearly in plain, easy to understand English.

The latest entry in the Plain English Campaign’s “Gobbledegook of the week” reads as follows:

"By aggregating a range of public and commercial datasets, including global addressing and Directory Enquiries, voter databases, commercial data and documentation including dates of birth, and voice-based verification solutions, Business Services delivers the most comprehensive global online ID verification solution available. "


I think the SIPTU letter trumps that with ease: it’s in a league of it’s own. Or rather, it isn’t, which I guess is the material point here. All too often business and workplace communication is bloated, jargon riddled dross written by people who think that throwing long words into overly intricate prose makes them sound more important than they really are.

But here’s the rub… when the name of the game is getting your message across, you’re audience doesn’t care how “important” you sound, or how many syllables you can cram into a single sentence. They care about the clarity with which you deliver the essential information. People are busy, they don’t have time to decrypt your missive – they need to understand it instantly, first time round.

Communicating clearly with your target audience – whether that’s your customers, your co-workers or your employer – is critical to any business, and never more so than during hard economic times. So, before you send anything – letters, e-mail, blog posts, comments… anything at all – read it through to yourself at least once, aloud if necessary, and ask yourself truthfully “does this achieve what it sets out to do efficiently and effectively”? If the answer is no, perhaps you should stop and take another look.

And by the way, if you happen to be a national union executives looking to serve strike notice on the CEO of a major company, and you’d like some help writing your letter, you could always drop me a line ;-).

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