Writing a letter is sometimes the best way to communicate effectively.
When I was doing professional counseling with people who were experiencing difficulty in a relationship, I often encouraged them to practice the art of letter writing. Most of the time I tried to help them improve their one-to-one communication skills, but some things are easier and better to express on paper than in person.
For example, a letter may be needed when a couple cannot communicate without arguing, or when one person refuses to listen to reason, or if you can’t even get an audience with the other person. It could be best when one person is so intimidating to talk to you can’t get a word in verbally. Or, it could be you are too emotional every time you try to address the issue you can’t get your point across adequately. And, some people express their best thoughts only when they have time to think about them.
It’s not as impersonal as it may seem. It may actual be more personal. Some things seem to convey more importance and get closer attention if they are written rather than simply spoken.
A letter allows you to think through what you have to say and cuts down on reactionary arguments, which naturally come when trying to discuss something controversial. A letter will usually be read several and even many times; further enforcing the points you are trying to make. A letter is harder to dismiss than a verbal conversation.
Please note, I am NOT suggesting an email. This is letter writing. It requires a paper and pen, or at least a printer and paper. Email quickly becomes an exchange of ideas, which can almost be as counter-productive as the verbal communication. It’s too easy to hit the “reply” or “forward” button quickly with emails. Who wants something this personal being placed on the Internet?
This is often a near “final straw” kind of approach, so put the time into it that it requires.
I’m also not advocating that you avoid personal conversations, but if the situation calls for it, write a letter.
Here are 10 things to remember before writing your letter:
- Spend as much time praying about it as you spend writing the letter.
- Edit, then edit, and then edit again. (Again if needed.)
- Write with an end goal to benefit the receiver and the overall situation in mind. (This should eliminate some things you probably shouldn’t say anyway; and you’ll be more Christ-like.)
- Just as you should do in verbal communication, don’t attack the person; address the issue. Leave personal jabs out of the letter. Try not to start a sentence with “you” or use the word “always”. It puts people on the defensive. (This is what editing is all about.)
- Try to express your true heart and feelings, but limit your anger emotion. Remember, you are attempting to say those things, which for whatever reason, you aren’t able to say effectively in person. Don’t lose your audience by “going off” on the person.
- The goal is not to be a martyr; no one responds well to that approach. The goal is to be transparent and communicate effectively.
- Make sure you dedicate as much or even more time focusing on the part you have played in developing a bad relationship or situation. Consider the other person’s viewpoint. Put yourself in their shoes. Use the sandwich approach. Start kindly, with grace, state your point, then close with kindness and grace – as much as you can. And, if an apology is needed from you, give it clearly and completely in the letter.
- Be clear about the points you are trying to convey. Read them back to yourself. This is one of the best benefits of letter writing. You have the opportunity to clearly think through your response; so don’t lose your chance here.
- Before you send the letter, ask yourself: “How would I respond if someone sent this letter to me?”
- If you aren’t certain about the quality of your letter, give these instructions and the letter to someone else (whom you trust) and ask them to read it. Let them tell you how they would respond if they received this letter.
Remember, this is not a miracle cure, so don’t expect immediate results. The person may not respond the way you would have them to and you may not even know they have read the letter. You can almost be assured they will!
Don’t be afraid to write this kind of letter if you sense it’s warranted. You don’t write this kind of letter often, because it does carry more weight. But if the situations merits it, this can be an effective way to communicate. Chances are if you live a normal life there will be a few situations, which merit the true art of letter writing. Write well!