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Emotion and writing at work

September 28, 2010

Recently, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was widely criticised for a speech attacking those responsible for our current economic crisis. What was the basis for this criticism? That he was too ‘emotional’. Who levelled this criticism? Business leaders. This caused me to reflect on what part emotion plays in our working lives, and especially when we communicate though writing.

In many companies salespeople are expected to get excited about success; telesales departments thrive on the energy of emotion. It’s plain human to be emotional. Yet it is frowned upon in business writing.

One test I have delegates try when we’re considering letters of complaint is to write emotionally – usually to express themselves as angrily as possible without being abusive. The result? The writing comes across as frustrated or restrained. It is hard to be emotional in writing. In fact, it takes a very skilled writer to convey strong emotions.

I have sympathy with the Business Secretary. After all, loss of jobs and government spending cuts have very emotional consequences. Writers profoundly understand emotion in their readers, they ignore it at their peril. Controlling their readers’ reaction is an important part of their art. For business leaders, or anyone else, to overlook this very human aspect of our working lives is at best, disingenuous, at worst, being willfully unfair.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 7, 2010 13:49

    Very true. Exactly the right amount of emotion is difficult to achieve. Enthusiasm is important in a letter of application, a proposal for work or any other appropriate piece of writing. How easily can enthusiam turn into hyperbole or cliche though? The balance is hard to find, especially when you don’t have the support of tone of voice or facial expression.

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