Magazine article Communication World

Editing: The Hidden Management Tool. How Editing Can Assist Empowerment

Magazine article Communication World

Editing: The Hidden Management Tool. How Editing Can Assist Empowerment

Article excerpt

As corporations flatten and empower staff, managers must mentor, coach and develop incisive communication skills in their subordinates. Working with writers to refine their thinking provides an ideal occasion to develop staff and to mode a successful conflict-resolution dialogue.

"He can't write the simplest of memos! After many hours, I end up writing them myself!"

"Why should I bother? She'll still re-write every word. Why doesn't she just write it herself?"

Sound familiar? Is writing the one task you can't seem to delegate? Have you stalemated your own career by rewriting the work of your staff? Do you continue to have frustrating arguments about structure? Word choice? Are your people hesitant about writing? Discouraged? Do they procrastinate? Do they perceive you as a critic? An evaluator? Someone they can never please?

The relationship between writer and editor, like the relationship between subordinate and manager, can be difficult, leaving both parties defensive and frustrated. Yet one of the best platforms for developing your staff is the intimacy of sharing a writing task. Fifteen years of teaching business communication seminars have enabled me to experiment with ways to alleviate some of this frustration and defensiveness. Developing a few of the ideas outlined in Edith Poor's "The Executive Writer" yields a method that is both dynamic and developmental. A series of definite steps allows you (the manager and editor) to coax your writers out of the corner of defending their writing (and self-esteem, ability, intelligence) into seeing the reader's point of view.

The secret to this dynamic approach is to focus on the act of reading, not on the relationship between you and your writer, which can become adversarial, nor on the document, which the writer naturally defends. You become the symbolic reader, or the attorney, for the defense of readers. Your goal is to help your staff write clear and useful memos or reports and, eventually, dispense with your services, not to disparage the writer nor belittle "bad" writing. The document itself is never attacked, relieving the writer of the curse of having to create the "ideal" memo or report.

Focusing on reading and readers releases you from the burden of judging and evaluating and your writer from the necessity of justifying or defending. It allows both you and your writer to move to a neutral meeting ground -- the "imagined" document a reader will read easily and well.

Despite the tantalizing promise of a future paperless society, writing and supervising writing efforts, still remain among the most demanding tasks shouldered by most managers. If anything, these tasks are rendered more daunting by the special demands of our technologically advanced business environment. Have you looked at the proliferation and quality of E-Mail messages lately?

Personifying the Reader

When you become the reader, you transform editing into a non-judgmental dialogue during which the writer learns that meaning is not absolute, but depends on readers. You read and paraphrase various passages in the document, pointing out the places where readers could get stuck, not understand, misinterpret, stumble over logic, and lose their way.

When you take on the persona of a reader and not that of a judge, you protect the writer's ego. Writers cannot see the reader's point of view if they are busy defending their document in the face of a critic.

Become the reader within your corporate environment, work from the outside-in, from the larger picture, to the smaller, similar to an architect or an engineer. Just as an engineer will want to view and understand the entire project for which he or she is designing a component, so you begin with the total structure -- the whole -- and proceed through the hierarchies of lesser parts to the slots occupied by sentences.

How is this done? …

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