The Afghan of My Life
Dove's Close Up Challenge to choose a woman to Dance With the Stars

Be Specific

Guest post by Lena L. West, Social Media Strategist

Today, most of us work with people virtually in some capacity.

Either you have a virtual assistant, you have a team-member who lives in a different state or possibly a service provider who lives in a different country.

No matter what the case, all of this requires us to be able to communicate effectively. It simply won't do to have poor communication skills. (That's why we've added some sort of writing skill as a "must have" to almost all of our job descriptions and also why I'll hire a good writer to do anything any day, but that's another post for another time.)

Specific As our "e" communications increase, there are a couple of ways to make sure that your email (and all other digital missives) are read and received the way you intended them to be:

  • Don't say "it", "that" or "those". Be specific about what you're referring to. When you write an email and use the word "it", what do you mean by "it"? Is "it" a phone, a location, a hobby? What is "it"? Ditto for any other non-specific pronouns.
  • If someone gives you the choice of "blue or red", don't reply with "yes". Tell them specifically which one you're choosing.
  • Don't expect someone to remember what you spoke with them about last week or even yesterday. When reaching out, devote a quick sentence or two to a recap and then move on. People are busy and they can't be expected to remember what you're referring to.
  • And, along the same lines, don't start an email in the middle of an idea. The person you're sending it to is probably engrossed in their own work and it will take them time and energy to figure out what you're talking about and most times they have to come back to you with a bunch of questions to get to the bottom of what you're trying to say. Avoid all that by being clear in the first place.
  • Don't send three emails when one can do. It shows you're unfocused and it's egotistical. What you're really saying is, "I expect you to work to figure out what I'm saying here. You put the puzzle pieces together because goodness knows you don't have anything better to do." Well, maybe not all that, but you get my drift. Don't clog up someone's inbox because you want to respond to questions one at a time. If you find it hard to focus (and some people do), work with a coach to help you with that because real business people won't tolerate it for long.
  • Ditto for typos. No one is perfect, for sure (heck, for all I know there's a typo in this blog post), but read what you wrote, do a spell check and see if you can understand what you yourself wrote! At least make the effort.
  • Use timezones and times of day. We have them for a reason. Not everyone is in your timezone and furthermore many people don't know where you are. 8:00 am or pm??? EST or PST?

All of these things might sound really simple, but I can't tell you how many times I've had to reply to someone and ask them, "what do you mean?" or "do you mean X or Y?" or "is this Eastern or Central?"

Everyone is always riffing about how they don't have time and the truth is if people were to pay more attention to their writing, they wouldn't have to go back and explain themselves over and over -- wasting even more time.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.



Thanks for the kind words and for reading and commenting.

Ananda Leeke

Lena, I so appreciate your tips. They are right on time.




I LOVE that! And, don't you find that when people are given specific directions, they know what to do? Doing what you do also eliminates the I-didn't-know-I-was-supposed-to-do-that-itis :)

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Kate Hutchinson

I work for a German company, and half the time, I'm talking with my co-workers with a 6 hour time difference via instant messenger. I always wrap up a chat with: here are our next steps: Person A, you are going to... Person B, you are going to do... and I'm going to do... After we finish these tasks, email the team about what happened.

And the title of this post is the best advice: Be Specific. Always.



Knowing is half the battle. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Lynn / Power Chicks

Lena, you nailed me on numerous points here. Ouch! I struggle hugely with organization and will hire a VA the moment I can. Until then, I'll watch more closely for these errors. Thanks.


I whole-heartedly agree. "Reply with History" allows everyone to stay on the same page.

I'm sure there are other people out there who do the same thing as you, but not me :) What's the saying? Knowing is half the battle? Good luck with that!

Thanks to you both for for reading and commenting!


Including the original message in a reply is an easy way to keep everyone on the same page and yet, many people do not do that. Argg!

Rick Henkin

Excellent points, Lena. I'm even guilty of starting a conversation with someone in person or on the phone in the middle of an idea, because it's what's on my mind. I don't even realize that to them it seems like it's coming out of left field (gee, I hope I'm not alone in doing this).

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)