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8 Qualities of Powerful Writing

8 Qualities of Powerful Writing

Every semester I agonize over how to help my students learn to write more meaningful, interesting papers. Not just in my class, but altogether. Writing well is a key skill in today’s information-heavy society, and above all else my job is to help prepare students to become active participants in the society we live in.

Writing well is about far more than proper grammar and spelling. In fact, good writing often violates the rules of good grammar, sometimes violently. It is also about more than simply developing a good style. Hemingway and Proust have very different styles, but both were good writers.

One piece of advice often given to students is to write conversationally, and while that can be helpful – particularly for students (and others) who feel that good writing means using a lot of big words and complex sentences – not all good writing is conversational. Malcolm Gladwell’s writing is very conversational, and is quite effective for it; on the other hand, David Mamet’s writing is famously NON-conversational – and he writes plays and movie scripts that consist almost entirely of conversations!

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While trying to figure out something I could do for this year’s best and brightest, I decided to list some of the qualities that make writing good writing. The characteristics that make the best prose stick with us, that keep us reading or listening to a book or speech. This is what I came up with.

1. Powerful writing is readable.

I borrowed the notion of readability from the world of typesetting, where it refers to the effort required to make sense of the letters and words on a page. A paragraph set in Times New Roman is very readable; the same paragraph in Edwardian Script is nearly unreadable. In terms of what makes for good writing, readability is about the basic ability of a reader to make sense of what is written. A work that’s readable is grammatically sound (not necessarily grammatically correct – what’s important is that grammar not get in the way of the meaning) and stylistically clear, requiring only as much work to understand as is necessary.

2. Powerful writing is focused.

Good writing has a point, a goal that it is intended to achieve. That goal might be to sell something, to convince someone of something, or to explain how to do something, but whatever the point, it informs every line. Anything that doesn’t lead the reader towards that goal is stripped away.

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3. Powerful writing develops gracefully.

Powerful writing is not just focused on a goal, it leads the reader inescapably towards that goal. That may be through the use of evidence in support of an argument, through the relaying of a narrative describing events occurring over time, or in some other way, but it must be graceful – without gaps of reasoning, unsupported assumptions, missing information, or anything else that would cause a reader to stumble.

4. Powerful writing flows.

Good writing is all of a piece – the various elements that make it up fit together neatly and draw the reader along. Think of how bad joke-tellers tell jokes: “So the priest says – Oh, I forgot to tell you that the horse is gay. Ok, so the priest says…” That’s the opposite of flow. Flow means that everything in a piece of writing is exactly where it belongs, that whatever you need to understand paragraph 4 is present in paragraph 1, 2, or 3, that each part transitions nicely into the next, and that the style and tone remain constant throughout. Think of the way the Gettysburg Address moves effortlessly from the founding of the United States to the Civil War battlefield on which Lincoln stood.

5. Powerful writing is concrete.

Our society tends to value abstract thinking and generalizations over concrete particularities, but this tends to  lead to particularly limp and empty writing. The best writing, even when the subject is an abstraction, grounds its topic in the real world through examples, metaphors and analogies, and storytelling. This is an intensification of the old “show, don’t tell” rule – powerful writing doesn’t just show, it shows in real-world ways that are easily apporachable.

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6. Powerful writing is well-suited for its audience.

A good writer knows his or her audience intimately: the language they understand, the beliefs they share, the knowledge they hold. He or she knows what assumptions can be made about the reader, and what assumptions can’t be made. Good writing isn’t boring because the writer knows what will hold his or her audience’s interest. It is neither too dense nor too simple for the intended reader – it’s just right.

7. Powerful writing is compelling.

The best writing demands attention, whether through the force of its argument, the strength of its language, or the importance of its topic. The reader doesn’t want to stop reading – even when they’re done.

8. Powerful writing is passionate.

Good writing is about something important. Not necessarily something important in the grand scheme of things, but something either the audience already cares about or something the author makes them care about. And you can’t make an audience care unless you care, deeply, about whatever you’re writing about. It’s always clear when a writer doesn’t care – it’s what distinguishes the hacks from the greatest writers – and it’s easy enough not to care when the writer so clearly doesn’t.

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Normally I’d ask what I missed (and feel free to let me know in the comments) but I want to ask something else: What kind of writing speaks to you? What is the most powerful writing you remember? While writing this, I kept thinking of Barack Obama’s speeches, which even people who utterly disagree with him find deeply moving. What about you?

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Published on September 23, 2020

6 Effective Negotiation Skills to Master

6 Effective Negotiation Skills to Master

I don’t know about you, but many times when I hear the word negotiate I think of lawyers working out a business deal or having to do battle with a car salesman to try to get a lower price. Since I am in recruiting, the term “negotiation” comes up when someone is attempting to get a higher compensation package.

If we think about it, we tend to negotiate almost every day in a wide variety of things we do. Getting a handle on the important negotiation skills can be incredibly beneficial in many parts of our lives. Let’s take a look at 6 effective negotiation skills to master.

What is Negotiation?

First, let’s take a look at what negotiation is. Put simply, negotiation is a method by which people settle their differences. It is a process in which compromise or agreement can be reached without argument or dispute.

Anytime two people or sides disagree on something, they are almost always looking for the best possible outcome for their side. This could be from an individual’s perspective or someone representing an organization.

In reality, it’s rare that one side gets everything they want and the other side gets nothing that they are seeking. Seeking to reach a common ground of sorts where both sides feel like they are getting most of what they want is the key to being successful and maintaining the relationship.

Places We Negotiate

I’ve mentioned that we negotiate in just about all phases of our life. For those of you who are shaking your head no, I invite you to think about the following:

1. Work/Business

This one is the most obvious and it’s what naturally comes to mind when we think of the word “negotiate”.

When you first started at your current job, you might have asked for a higher salary. It could be that you delivered a huge new client to your company and used this as leverage in your most recent evaluation for more compensation. If you work with vendors (and just about every company does), maybe you worked them to a lower price or better contract terms.

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In recruiting, I negotiate with candidates and hiring managers all the time to land the best talent I can find. It’s very common to accept additional work with the (sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken) agreement that it will benefit your career in the future.

Recently, I took over a project that was my boss was working on so that I would be able to attend a conference later in the year. And so it goes, we do this all day long at work.

2. Personal

I don’t know about you, but I negotiate with my spouse all the time. I’ll cook dinner with the understanding that she does the dishes. Who wants to mow the lawn and who wants to vacuum and dust the house?

I think we should save 10% for retirement, but she thinks 5% is plenty. Therefore, we save 8%. And don’t even get me started with my kids. My older daughter can borrow my car as soon as she finishes her chores. My younger daughter can go hang out with her friends when her homework is done.

Then, there are all those interactions in our personal lives outside our homes. The carpenter wants to charge me $12,000 to build a new deck. I think $10,000 is plenty so we agree on $11,000. I ask my neighbor if I can borrow his snowblower in the winter if I invite him over the next time I grill steak. And so on.

3. Ourselves

You didn’t expect this one, did you? We negotiate with ourselves all day long.

I’ll make sure I don’t skip my workout tomorrow since I’m going to have that extra piece of pizza. My spouse has been quiet the last few days, is it worth me asking her about, or should I leave it alone? I think the car place charged me for some repairs that weren’t needed, should I say something or just let it go? I know my friend has been having some personal challenges, should I check in with him? We’ve been friends for a long time, I’m sure he’d come to me if he needed help. I’ve got the #4 pick in this year’s Fantasy Football draft, should I choose a running back or a wide receiver?

Think about that non-stop voice inside your head. It always seems to be chattering away about something and many times, it’s us negotiating with ourselves. I’ll finish up that report that the boss needs before I turn on the football game.

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Why Negotiation Skills Are So Important

Put simply, negotiation skills are important because we all interact with other people, and not only other people but other organizations and groups of people as well.

We all rarely want the same thing or outcome. Most of the time a vendor is looking at getting you to pay a higher price for something than you want to spend. Therefore, it’s important to negotiate to some middle ground that works well for both sides.

My wife and I disagree on how much to save for retirement. If we weren’t married it wouldn’t be an issue. We’d each contribute how much we wanted to on our retirement funds. We choose to be married, so we have to come to some agreement that we both feel comfortable with. We have to compromise. Therefore, we have to negotiate.

If we each lived on a planet by ourselves, we would be free to do just about anything we wanted to. We wouldn’t have to compromise with anyone because we wouldn’t interact with anyone. We would make every choice unilaterally the way we wanted to.

As we all know, this isn’t how things are. We are constantly interacting with other people and organizations, each one with their own agenda’s, viewpoints, and opinions. Therefore, we have to be able to work together.

6 Negotiation Skills to Master

Having strong negotiation skills helps us create win-win situations with others, allowing us to get most of what we want in conjunction with others around us.

Now, let’s look at 6 effective negotiation skills to master.

1. Preparation

Preparation is a key place to start with when getting ready to negotiate. Being prepared means having a clear vision of what you want and how you’d go about achieving it. It means knowing what the end goal looks like and also what you are willing to give to get it.

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It also means knowing who you are negotiating with and what areas they might be willing to compromise on. You should also know what your “bottom line” is. By “bottom line” I mean what is the most you are willing to give up to get what you want.

For instance, several years ago, I decided it was time to get a newer car. I say newer because I wanted a “new to me” car, not a brand new car. I did my research and figured out what type of car I wanted. I decided on what must-have items on the car I wanted, the highest amount of miles that would already be on it, the colors I was willing to get it in, and the highest amount of money I was willing to pay.

After visiting numerous car dealerships I was able to negotiate buying a car. I knew what I was willing to give up (amount of money) and what I was willing to accept, things like the color, amount of miles, etc. I came prepared. This is critical.

2. Clear Communication

The next key skill you need to be an effective negotiator is clear communication. You have to be able to clearly articulate what you want to the other party. This means both clear verbal and written communication.

If you can’t clearly tell the other person what you want, how do you expect to get it? Have you ever worked through something with a vendor or someone else only to learn of a surprise right at the end that wasn’t talked about before? This is not what you would call clear communication. It’s essential to be able to share a coherent and logical vision with the person you are working with.

3. Active Listening

Let’s do a quick review of active listening. This is when you are completely focused on the speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information, and respond appropriately. This is a necessary ingredient to be able to negotiate successfully. You must be able to fully focus on the other person’s wants to completely understand them.

If you aren’t giving them your full attention, you may miss some major points or details. This leads to frustration down the road on both sides. Ensure you are employing your active listening skills when in arbitration mode.

4. Teamwork and Collaboration

To be able to get to a place of common ground and a win-win scenario, you have to have a sense of teamwork and collaboration.

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If you are only thinking about yourself and what you want without giving much care to what the other person is wanting, you are bound to wind up without a solution. The other person may get frustrated and give up if they see you are unwilling to meet them halfway or care little for what they want.

When you collaborate, you are working together to help each other get what is most important to you. The other upside to negotiating with a sense of teamwork and collaboration is that it helps create a sense of trust, which, in turn, helps provide positive energy for working to a successful conclusion.

5. Problem Solving

Problem-solving is another key negotiation skill. When you are working with the other person to get the deal done many times you’ll face new challenges along the way.

Maybe you want a new vendor to provide training on the software they are selling you but they say it’s going to cost an additional $20,000 to provide this service. If you don’t have the additional $20,000 in the budget to spend on the software but you feel the training is critical, how are you going to solve that problem?

From what I’ve seen, most vendors aren’t willing to provide additional services without getting paid for them. This is where problem-solving skills will help continue the discussions. You might suggest to the vendor that your company will also be looking to replace their financial software next year, and you’d be happy to ensure they get one of the first seats at the table when the time comes if they could perhaps lower the pricing on their training.

There’s a solution to most challenges, but it takes problem-solving skills to work through them effectively.

6. Decision-Making Ability

Finally, having strong decision-making ability will help you seal the deal when you get to a place where everyone feels like they are getting what works for them. Each step of the way you can cross off the list when you get what you are looking for and decide to move onto the next item. Then, once you have all of your must-have boxes checked and the other side feels good about things, it’s time to shake hands and sign on the dotted line. Powerful decision-making ability will help you get to the finish line together.

Conclusion

There you have it, 6 effective negotiation skills to master to lead a more fulfilling life. Once we realize that we negotiate in one form or another almost every day in every phase of our lives, we realize how critical a skill it is.

Possessing strong negotiation skills will help you in nearly every one of your relationships at both the workplace and in your personal life. If you feel your arbitration tools could use some sharpening, try some of the 6 effective negotiation skills to master that we’ve talked about.

More Tips to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

Featured photo credit: Windows via unsplash.com

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