Want advice that will help your relationships AND your writing at work? Read on!

Here’s the scenario: The husband tells me “I washed the dishes.” And so starts a sequence of events that has played out many times in our household—one that can be avoided, both in our marriages and in our writing at work.

Why? Because while he did in fact wash some of the dishes, he did not in fact wash all of the dishes. And that lack of specific wording sets up an expectation on my part that’s not met, leading to frustration.

He was not specific and that led to friction.

I preach “be specific” in all I do as I help people be better, faster writers and with good reason. Being specific can help you avoid friction, frustration, conflict, miscommunications and more both at home and at work!

Being specific makes life better!
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being specific. I blog about it here, emphasize it in my business email ebook, preach it when I teach people about copywriting, and consider it one of the five characteristics of good business writing.

Being specific is important because it improves your communications but there’s more to it than that because–while improving your communications–being specific also:

  1. Sets reasonable expectations and…
  2. …makes sure everyone is on the same page.

Being specific sets reasonable expectations
To make my point about setting expectations, let’s go back to my scenario from my home life: When the husband says he washed the dishes, I assume he means all of the dishes, as I said above. When I walk into the kitchen later to start on dinner, my expectation is I’m starting with a clean kitchen because the dishes were washed.*

When I walk into the kitchen expecting to start meal prep right away, but I see instead I have to wash dishes first, I’m frustrated. My expectations weren’t met.

If the husband had been specific and said, “I washed some of the dishes,” I would be grateful for that and I’d walk into the kitchen later in the day knowing I had some dishes still to wash before I started cooking. Frustration avoided!

He would set reasonable expectations by being more specific.

And now an example from my working world…
Setting reasonable expectations is important in your personal life, as I’m sure you know. But it’s also important in your work life, especially when writing at work. Here’s an example of unmet expectations from my professional life, a situation that could have been avoided with specific communications…

A new (to me) account manager was sending me resources to use as I started on a project. Or that was my expectation anyway, because that’s what he said he’d do. But he didn’t. Instead, he sent me a zip file with about 60 documents in it and zero explanation of what was what. In order to get ramped up on the project and figure out which resources I could draw on as a copywriter, I had to spend a couple of hours opening each file to find what I needed.

He was not specific and therefore did not set reasonable expectations. Then he was irritated with me when I billed for that time.

My expectation was that he would send me the resources I needed, not that he would dump dozens of files in my digital lap. I was irritated with him for not warning me ahead of time.

How would being specific had helped?
If he had said, “I have about 60 files I’ve received from the client, but I haven’t had time to sort through them yet to see what’s useful for you. I’m sending them all to you and you’ll need to sort through them,” I would have known to budget my time accordingly.

Being specific would have eliminated surprises and frustration for both of us.

Being specific also makes sure everyone is on the same page
Because it helps to set reasonable expectations, being specific also helps to get everyone on the same page. This is especially important right now as many industries are in flux and experiencing changes.

Those might be changes in staffing, procedures, budgeting, planning or something else. Being specific about those changes can make them easier to get through because everyone knows what to expect.

For example, let’s say a procedure is going to change but the timing and steps are not clearly communicated with specific details. You might end up with one person using the new procedure and another person using the old procedure because management was not specific about the how and why of the change.

Then you get frustration as with my earlier examples, and also inefficiencies or even mistakes as a result…and that can lead to wasted time and money.

If you’re married or in a significant relationship, you can probably think of several times when your partner was vague and you weren’t on the same page, so I will spare you any stories from my home life to make this second point. I’ve embarrassed my husband enough as it is with my dishes example!

Being specific can take time, but save time
You might have to slow down to be specific when writing at work because you’ll need to stop and think about what you’re saying. But you will save time in the long run because you will have communicated clearly, set reasonable expectations, and made sure everyone is on the same page. It’s a short-term pain for a long-term gain.

And we all have plenty of daily frustrations to deal with, both at home and at work, so why not avoid those that we can by simply being specific?

*You’re probably wondering, “Sharon, why do you need the dishes washed before you start cooking?” I won’t start cooking a meal until the already dirty dishes are washed and put away because I know I’m only going to make more dishes while cooking, and I usually need the sink. And yes, we wash dishes by hand becaus our house was built in 1890, meaning we are the “dishwasher.” 🙂

Sharon Ernst is a retired freelance copywriter now on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes.