Before you pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, or construct an e-mail, you should be able to express the reason for the communication with a one-sentence purpose statement. Similar to a thesis statement in a report or memo, you need to know exactly where you’re going before you begin writing or talking so you can get to your point as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Here are some examples of hideously bad purpose statements:
At the end of this phone call, I will have convinced my co-worker to cover for me on Friday while I’m on vacation.
At the end of this meeting, attendees will have discussed what is on the agenda.
At the end of this e-mail, I will have expressed my anger about this project.
These purpose statements are vague, lack tangible actions, and don’t include much direction for getting you where you want to go with your communication. You’re also not likely to get the response you desire with purpose statements like these because the recipient of the communication could easily be confused by what you’re intending.
A well-constructed purpose statement is concrete and specific, and it also identifies why the specific communication is best achieved through the phone call, meeting, or e-mail.
To develop your purpose statement, complete the following sentence: “At the end of the [communication], [person/people] will …”
Here are some examples of significantly better purpose statements:
At the end of the phone call, Susan will have agreed to change her shift on September 29 with my shift on September 17.
At the end of the meeting, attendees will have drafted a one-page annual strategy statement that will guide our team over the next year.
At the end of this e-mail, Claudia will know I believe purposefully missing the deadline for the project without notifying the client could possibly lead to us losing this client, not being paid in full for our work, or not covering the salaries of those working on the project.
When you know what you want for the final result of your communication, you’re more likely to achieve it and save time for everyone involved in the conversation. Quickly draft these one-sentence statements on your computer or pen them on a notepad before every out-going communication and look at them during your conversations to keep you on track. Say them aloud or print them at the top of your meeting agendas so everyone in the meeting knows why they have been gathered. Know where you’re going, so you’ll be sure to get there.