Why Good Writers Don’t Make Great Knowledge Workers

I spent my last two Colludo posts (A & B within this series) reflecting on the role of search technology in working together on documents (no buzzwords).

Now, I would like to reflect a bit more on the “human-side” of this process. Of course, our use of technology is human-centric, but I want to focus for a bit on social norms and establishing a framework for effectively working together in an office setting.

Office workers have communication needs. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), we don’t work in a vacuum akin to outer space (depends where you work). Sauciness aside, what I’m saying is that people who work with information need to work well with others. This skill is learned more than it is taught. Today, I aim to zero in on recognizing our needs (and the needs of others) in facilitating our work with fellow employees around documents.

Most people, it seems, don’t like writing. They may not enjoy the art or perhaps they do not possess enough skill to write and to be understood. Every resume ever written lists “good oral and written communications skills” and likewise, most job descriptions require it. Whatever the case, some knowledge workers are not that great at written communication.

What are some of the common ways for communicating with each other in an office setting (apart from writing end-product documents themselves)?

Email, instant messaging, phone, impromptu meetings, and scheduled meetings. Each of these modes of communication has their strengths and weaknesses, but more to the point, each medium is appropriate in unique circumstances. Further, each of us has our own preferences and proficiencies when it comes to these modes of communication. And in order to work together properly, we need to recognise our own strengths/weaknesses, inclinations, proclivities, etc. with regard to these forms of communication.

Imagine the following scenario:

Your Executive Director asks you how your work on the new planned giving strategy is going. You begin to explain, even though you were working on something entirely different when you were interrupted and you need to find your train of thought. She interrupts you again, midway through your explanation and asks you to schedule a meeting to discuss. How thoughtful of her! When the scheduled meeting arrives you are well prepared and you begin to lay out your case, but she continuously interrupts you with questions (“Have you thought of this?” “And, what about that?). Annoyed, you forge on. The meeting abruptly ends when the ED receives an unexpected phone call. You decide to write out your explanation of the planned giving strategy instead and send it in an email. The email goes unread and a few weeks later, the cycle repeats.

If you were given the chance to write from the get-go and if your boss took the time to read and respond (write back), perhaps some progress could be made on this important task. Instead, there is no clear understanding of the communication vehicle most likely to see the project through to successful completion.

But, you’re not in this office to be an effective communicator. You work with others who cannot communicate either. It’s best not to dwell on these things, just soldier on and remember: effective communicators are not valued in the “knowledge” workforce.

I’m being sarcastic, of course.