You’ve probably read writing that was almost too annoying to bear. The author’s style made you run to check your email for the thousandth time that day, or water the plants at your desk, if only to help you avoid reading one more word.
And you’ve probably read documents that warmed your heart, even if they were about business matters. You felt welcome in the words and felt that the author had you in mind when he wrote.
What is emotional intelligence in writing? Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and manage your own emotions as well as being able to understand and influence the emotions of others. In writing, this means that the emotionally intelligent writer doesn’t give in to the urge to fire off an angry email to a friend or colleague when upset. They are able to see their feelings objectively and not act on them.
They know their readers in ways other writers ignore. This is similar to the ability to understand another person’s point of view in a conversation. And they know how to slow down when every neuron urges them to hit send without re-reading.
How do emotionally intelligent people engage their readers and keep them engaged, even with challenging subject matter? Here are four habits of these successful writers:
1. They think about their purpose before they start writing.
If you don’t know where you want to go, you’re unlikely to get to your destination. At Worktalk writing trainings, we emphasize the need to know your purpose before you start writing. Emotionally intelligent writers think strategically about their communication before they start typing. They may aim to inform, solicit or persuade. Whatever goal they choose, they increase their chances of accomplishing it by knowing it from the start.
Suggestion: Before you write, ask yourself what effect you want to create. What should the reader think or do as a result of reading what you have written?
2. They never send emails or other documents when they are upset.
Self-control is the hallmark of the emotionally intelligent person. We all know people who have ruined relationships with a rushed, emotional email. The instant gratification of “getting it off your chest” is nothing when weighed against the connection-killing impact of writing while upset.
Suggestion: If you are upset, leave the TO line blank when writing the vent message. Then save it in your Drafts folder for 24 hours. I would be surprised if you want to send it a day later.
3. They think about their readers before they start writing.
To reach readers, consider their interests before you start writing. Address what matters to them and they will pay attention. Also, anticipate your reader’s questions and objections. Answer them proactively.
Suggestion: Before you write, note a few topics that are important to your reader. If you don’t know the person, think about what topics matter to someone in your reader’s shoes. For example, top executives are usually concerned with profits, speed, and public image. Also, ask yourself, “If I received this communication, what questions would I have?”
4. They proofread before sending their document.
We’ve all had the experience: We write something one day and think we’re the most brilliant person on the planet. Such prose! Such eloquence! Then we let the piece rest overnight and look at it again, and think: Such movement!
Emotionally intelligent people know that as humans, they are likely to fall in love with their first plans. Because of this, they resist the urge to send important documents immediately after they are written. Instead, they let their language marinate until they can look at it more objectively.
Suggestion: If a document is important, never send it immediately after writing it. Take a walk, drink a cup of coffee, or better yet, let it rest overnight. Even for less important pieces, force yourself to re-read before releasing.
You’ve probably noticed that three of these habits occur before writing and one after. If you are mentally and emotionally prepared to write — preferably with a clear idea of what you want to say — writing flows smoothly. Try it!