Use one-sentence purpose statements to be more productive in your communications

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.

17 Comments for “Use one-sentence purpose statements to be more productive in your communications”

  1. posted by Mletta on

    Before undertaking any action, I always stop and ask myself: What is my intention?

    Once I’m clear on that (and sometimes we are NOT clear within ourselves), then I formulate the specific objective as you have detailed in this great article.

    If only meetings were run in this manner, and started with the stated objectives so it’s clear that whatever does not relate to that objective is NOT a part of the meeting.

    Most people are NOT focused on the objective or desired outcome or they lose sight of it.

  2. posted by Molly on

    Oh, how I wished this happened…

  3. posted by Margaret on

    I always think it is very important when you are about to get into a fight or negotiation with someone over something to make sure you know what you want. When you are upset, it’s easy to get hung up on making sure the other person feels bad or admits they are wrong, when really, sometimes it doesn’t matter what they think or say as long as they DO what you want.

  4. posted by Christine on

    Sometimes, I create a one-sentence purpose story (in my head) before going into a story about my day with my husband so he doesn’t have to hear all the annoying, tangential details (though he always tries to look like he’s paying attention to every word).

    Sometimes. Not always.

  5. posted by Dawn F on

    This might sounds nuts, but I do something very similar to this before I am going to be around certain members of my family. I will say a motivating sentence to myself – cheering me on to make it through the visit.

    “I will not let …. break my spirt or ruin my day.”

    Would it be easier just to avoid these certain 2 people and not deal with them at all? Why, yes. It is possible to avoid them forever? No.

    Having a goal-oriented statement to repeat to yourself can help get your mind back on track (no matter what the circumstances are – personal or business).

  6. posted by Rachel on

    I don’t know. I think this makes sense for a 1-hour meeting, because efficiency matters more when multiple people are involved. In the case of the email, which has multiple points and is written to only one person, this just seems like a way to do the same work twice.

  7. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    I use this principle all the time, for written or spoken communication, (particularly if there’s a difficult situation) and for task/project management.

    Working through difficult situations in my head or even writing out some things before I compose a message is so useful. My own ’emotional processing’ doesn’t need to be dumped on a colleague or friend. It saves my time and their’s, and helps the message stay on track, instead of wandering off down unproductive paths.

    Great stuff!

  8. posted by JC on

    This brought instant flashbacks to planning lessons during my student teaching days. We had to state not only the subject being taught, but exactly how the students would demonstrate proficient use of the knowledge. I don’t write out these things as I already do this in my head on a regular basis.

  9. posted by Alex on

    That’s a really good idea. The military used to spend huge sums of time and money creating extremely detailed combat plans. The plans were so rigorous as to be unhelpful if something unexpected happens, which it always does. Now, they form short, one sentence “Commander’s Intents” so they can think on their feet and still accomplish their goal.

  10. posted by jessa on

    I like the idea of being specific, but I’m not so keen on the whole “this thing WILL happen” or “this person WILL do this thing”. Linguistically, it sets you up to fail a lot. If Susan offers you her shift of Sept. 27, you probably still succeeded in practical terms, but you’ve failed linguistically. Same if Susan says she can’t switch, but she’s pretty sure that Sally can switch with you. Since we can’t know the future or make things go our way, I would tend toward purpose statements like, “At the end of this phone call, I will have asked Susan if she can switch her Sept. 29 shift with my Sept. 17 shift, toward the goal of fixing my schedule conflict.” Perhaps add a contingency, like, “If she cannot switch with me, I will ask Susan if she has any ideas how to solve my conflict or I will ask Sally to switch shifts with me.”

  11. posted by Egirl on

    I try to have a one-sentence opener ready. After the formalities of “Hi, how are you?”, I get directly to the point. “Do you have time to review this presentation today? The due date is XXX. No? Can you recommend someone else to call?” Works every time.

  12. posted by Ramblings of a Woman on

    I have used this before in other business and work situations, and as I read it, I realized this is a great tool to use as I draft a blog post. I need to ask myself, “What is the idea or thought I want to get across?” Sometimes I get off on tangents and my posts even go a different direction than intended. Sometimes thats OK, if I realize what I am doing. Forming this statement in the beginning will help me to clarify in my mind WHAT I am writing about!
    Thanks so much!

  13. posted by Jeanne B. on

    Wow. Though this is geared toward business meetings, it really clarified the concept of intention-setting from the Law of Attraction perspective, too. I’m able to see how some of my intentions haven’t been specific enough to be CLEAR.

    On that note, I’m going to apologize for hijacking the comments for a moment to make a few points about a couple of the comments:

    @DawnF: use the positive opposite. Saying “I won’t let… break my spirit/ruin my day” has you focused on having your spirit broken and having your day ruined (even though you don’t want this).

    Say instead, “I’m maintaining my spirit and I’m having a great day!” Period. If you must include “…”, set an additional intention that all interactions with “…” are neutral.


    @Jessa: I agree with avoiding use of the phrase “I will” because it pushes the desired outcome off into the future someday. To manifest something, the intention has to be set in the Now. “I AM” is better. “I am, I have, I do”.

    The whole point of clarity is to be CLEAR. Not to be harsh, but the way your suggestions were worded, there is far too much room for interpretation, inference, and assumption and to me it feels wishy-washy. It’s like saying, “I think I might like to have this maybe happen if it’s OK with the Universe”.

    If the concern is about controlling Susan’s actions, then it’s OK to phrase Erin’s intention to have Susan swap shifts and ADD this disclaimer “This, or something better”. This opens the door to manifest the intention while allowing someone else better suited to swap shifts if it results in a better outcome.

    The point is to commit to an outcome and stay committed. We get what we focus upon. Ambiguous focus results in ambiguous outcomes. Clear focus results in clear outcomes.

  14. posted by Jamie on

    Great tip, being clear on your intention or purpose, combined with an idea of how you’re going to achieve it, means you can enjoy the conversation knowing that you’re unconscious mind, is kind of programmed to help you get there. You can then relax, whilst your unconscious mind delivers whatever it is you need to achieve your intention. Thanks for reminding me to keep practicing this!!

  15. posted by Mletta on

    Re: Intention and Outcomes

    We cannot control the outcome of an interaction (although we can influence it in various ways). Hence, we focus on our intention or our objective.

    I don’t think this is about THIS will happen or THIS WILL NOT happen as someone posted. (Would that we had such power!)

    That said, in business situations, there are objectives that must be met and certain actions that must be initiated, etc. in order to do business, whether it’s delivering a service or making and shipping a product, etc

    It’s even harder to do this today when people attend meetings and then don’t pay attention because they are too busy reading email or texting on their cell phones.

    And people wonder why time is wasted? Well, if you don’t pay attention…

    In the end, so much of life is about Attention and Intention. Being PRESENT as it were in our own lives, so we can then be present for others.

    If each of us committed to that every day, imagine the world we could create and what we could do individually and collectively!

  16. posted by Susan Hurrell on

    At the end of any communication – conversation, meeting, email, even with my daily plan – I try to make note and confirm the following with all participants – WHO will do WHAT by WHEN. simple, easy, and often greatly appreciated by the other participants.

  17. posted by panig on

    Before I speak, I usually pause and think of the possible outcome. If the possibility is that the outcome will be negative or won’t help anything, then I refrain from saying anything. Soon I forget what was in my mind and things are peace and quiet. It has helped me from many misunderstandings and maintain cordial relationship with some people. Some times it is best to say nothing at all. I read a quote somewhere that “it is not important what you say but how you say it”.

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