Sometime in my twenties, I started realizing that people could get hurt or offended by my choice of words in a business document. I wasn’t insulting people (deliberately) or using vulgar language. I was, however, not always aware of some of the sensitivities people can have toward how I phrased things. From that point on, if I found myself in a situation where I thought I might get into trouble, I made certain to have my writing reviewed by my “diplomacy filter.” Do you have one?
What sorts of documents would benefit from a diplomacy filter?
- Anything being sent/posted for a mixed audience. This “mixing” could include multiple genders, nationalities, social statuses, languages, educational levels, or political leanings. Your goal is to share information or a specific viewpoint without going out of your way to offend or condescend to any group, deliberately or inadvertently (unless that’s your style…in which, good luck with that).
- Related to the above, any document that addresses an issue of employment, ethics, pay, benefits, employee conduct, customer relations, proprietary information, or corporate viability…in short, anything important or politically sensitive.
- Anything related to corporate culture. This, again, goes to political sensitivities and how people conduct themselves.
- Any document related to disciplinary matters–these will usually be handled by a member of management or even the Legal department, given the size of the organization or the nature of the offense.
- Refusal of a deal/financial transaction, service recovery request, favor, or any other situation where you have to tell the individual receiving the document “No.”
- Product safety issues. The goal here isn’t to sugar-coat, but also not to assign blame–especially if all the facts are in yet. If all the facts are in, it’s best to be clear and emotion-free as much as possible so that you’re laying out the problem, consequences, and response/fix/work-around, if known.
You want a diplomacy filter when your words could produce negative reactions based on the audience, situation, and potential outcome if you use the wrong words. In short, that could be darn near everything. However, some situations are more fraught with social pitfalls than others–hence the list above.
Stay diplomatic, everyone! There are worse things you could do.