Just The Facts: Writing to Get Your Problem Resolved

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To get movement in resolving a problem, you’re probably going to have to write to someone.  Whether you’re trying to get justice from the airline or hotel who wronged you on your last business trip or if you need to reach out to a peer to clear a log jam that’s blocking your team, written communication is sometimes the best path forward.  Here’s a simple framework that I’ve found effective over the years for resolving personal and business issues:

  • What’s Wrong: Clearly and concisely state the problem. Keep it factual – not editorial.  No emotions and no speculating on someone else’s frame of mind.  Just the facts.
  • Impact to YOU: Be very specific and unemotional about how the problem impacts (or will impact) you or your team. Again, be concise and factual with no editorial comments.
  • Impact to the READER: Make it clear that you realize you may not be the only one impacted and that this isn’t 100% about you. How might the reader also be impacted?  Beware of sounding threatening; you probably won’t need to connect all the dots for the reader.  An overview of the “dots” is enough.
  • Propose a Solution: Never dump the problem on the reader, as he may well “solve” your problem but not in the way you’d hoped. This can leave you negotiating your way out of a solution that you asked for.  Instead, give the reader a quick and graceful exit by proposing a solution that can be accepted or countered.  Clarify how your proposal benefits all parties.  This way, you stand a better chance of getting the result that you want or at least negotiating something close enough.
  • Follow Up: Let the reader know when you plan to follow up, proposing a reasonable amount of time and then do so.
  • Respect: Be smart about cc’ing others if you’re trying to resolve a business issue. Ask yourself what impact this may have on the reader and on getting the results you want.  Will cc’ing others truly help or will it “give the reader something to think about?”  Don’t give them something to think about.  Get the problem solved.

I like to say that it’s always better to give someone a printed sheet and a red pen than a blank sheet and a black pen.  Applying this approach, along with some respect and common sense, should allow you to quickly solve your problem and move on.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

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