Seeing his daughter Jody appointed federal justice minister three decades after he told Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau she wanted to be Prime Minister is “karma or kismet”, according to First Nation’s leader Bill Wilson. He says he remembers the exchange like it was yesterday, even though it occurred in 1983 in Ottawa during at constitutional conference on native issues. Jody was reportedly 12-years-old and watched the exchange on TV at their home in Campbell River, B.C. Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed Justice Minister by Trudeau’s son Justin in November 2015.
Human Resource Development Canada once funded development of a Plain Language Online Training site which no longer exists. The instructional content of the site was adapted from a 1991 Government of Canada writing guide called Plain Language: Clear and Simple and an accompanying Trainer’s Guide.
Although both documents are difficult to find these days, according to Canadian editor Iva Cheung, “despite their age, they are among the best plain writing guides I have come across”. She has made pdf copies available (in both official languages) for free download on Google Drive. If you are interested, click here to go to her site. They are also available for free download on Clear Communication Wiki.
“If officials can’t even get my correspondence and briefing notes right, how can I trust them to manage the Immigration program?”
When I heard a Canadian Minister of Immigration say that to the Deputy Minister, it piqued my curiosity. What if officials approached the task of writing as a measure of their competence or credibility; how different might their attitudes and products be?
And then, because it’s always political in the public sector, even on a PublicSectorWriting.com website, I qualify – it was not the current Minister, not even the current government.
I share that exchange when I’m delivering public sector training programs as an example of how senior and elected officials may think about your writing (whether it is reasonable or not).
Having just conducted 103 assessments of students entering a Master’s degree program, here’s the bottom line. How you communicate is a measure of your credibility. It makes an immediate impression on the listener or reader. No matter how brilliant the content may be, it is diminished if your communication skills are lacking. Flip that around – if your presentation is masterful, even if the content is not brilliant, you can make a positive impression. Be clear, direct and “ruthless’ in your own self-assessment. Have you ever noticed, there seems to be a correlation between unrealistic self assessment and not being able communicate very effectively? Or that people who have the most masterful presentation, often wonder if they could have done a better job? If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re communicating, it’s your fault, not theirs, according to Seth Godin.
If the person reading your briefing note doesn’t understand the issues, blame yourself. Although it’s easier to say it’s the reader’s fault, my friend Kirsten Farris reminded me: as the writer, you are responsible for the response you get. That’s one of the presuppositions of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP): “the meaning of your communication is the response (feedback) you get”.
So, for example, if you write a briefing note or a blog post, and the reader has to ask all sorts of questions, you are responsible for having missed something.
And, according to marketing guru Seth Godin, if you are a student in my class and you don’t learn what I’m teaching, I’ve let you down. So once again, if you don’t get what I mean by all this, it’s my fault!