You’ve probably read something that was almost too mind-numbing to bear. The writer’s style made you rush to check your email for the umpteenth time that day or water the plants on your desk if it would help you not to read another word.
And you’ve probably read documents that warmed your heart, even if they dealt with business topics. You felt welcome in the words and felt that the author had you in mind as they wrote.
What is emotional intelligence in writing? Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and control your own emotions, as well as being able to understand and influence the emotions of others. In writing, this means that the emotionally intelligent writer does not give in to the impulse to send an angry email to a friend or colleague when they are upset. They can view their emotions objectively and not act on them.
They are aware of their readers in ways that other writers ignore. This is similar to the ability to understand another person’s point of view in a conversation. And they know how to slow down when each neuron prompts them to hit “send” without re-reading.
How do emotionally intelligent readers attract and engage their readers, even on challenging topics? Here are four habits of these successful writers:
1. They think about their purpose before they start writing.
If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s unlikely you’ll reach your destination. In the Worktalk writing training, we emphasize the need to know your goal before you start writing. Emotionally intelligent writers think strategically about their communication before they start typing. They may try to inform, ask, or persuade. Whatever goal they choose, they increase the chances of fulfilling it by knowing it from the start.
Suggestion: Before you write, ask yourself what result you want to achieve. What should the reader think or do as a result of reading what you have written?
2. They never send emails or other documents when they are upset.
Self-control is the hallmark of the emotionally intelligent person. We all know people who have ruined relationships with a rushed, emotional email. The temporary pleasure of “getting it off your chest” is nothing when weighed against the connection-killing impact of writing while upset.
Suggestion: If you are upset, leave the TO line blank when you write your vent email. Then save it to your Drafts folder for 24 hours. I’d be surprised if you still want to send it a day later.
3. They think about their readers before they start writing.
To reach readers, consider their interests before you start writing. Allude to what’s important to them, and they’ll pay attention. Also, anticipate your reader’s questions and concerns. Respond to them proactively.
Suggestion: Before you write, write down a few topics that are important to your reader. If you don’t know the person, consider what topics are important to someone in your reader’s position. For example, top managers are usually concerned with profit, speed and image. Also ask yourself, “If I received this communication, what questions would I have?”
4. They reread before sending their document.
We’ve all had the experience: one day we’ll write something and think we’re the most brilliant person on the planet. What prose! What eloquence! Then we let the piece rest overnight and watch it again, and then we think: what a whining!
Emotionally intelligent people know that as humans they are likely to fall in love with their first designs. As a result, they limit the impulse to send important documents immediately after writing. Instead, they let their language marinate until they can look at it more objectively.
Suggestion: If a document is important, never send it immediately after you write it. Take a walk, have a cup of coffee, or better yet, let it rest overnight. Even for minor pieces, force yourself to re-read before letting go.
You’ve probably noticed that three of these habits occur before you write, and one after that. If you are mentally and emotionally prepared to write – preferably with a clear idea of what you want to say – the writing will go smoothly. Try it!