99% of you will know that this is 90% of our job as professional school counselors. When we show up to work, we are expected to be communicating with students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and community members on a regular basis. We all had classes that emphasized the basic attending skills (often called SOLER). We need to Sit straight and face the other person, maintain an Open posture and positive body language, Lean towards the person conveying interest, keep a comfortable level of Eye contact, and be Relaxed.
These SOLER skills are all well and good, but what about communication that is not done in the first person or face-to-face? There is still communication etiquette and rules to live by, even more so, when you are communicating in other methods. Today, I will be focusing on communicating electronically (via email, social media, etc.) – but the following can be applied to other forms of communication as well.
I created a simple acronym of TACT for the four points of electronic communication that I feel are essential for all school counselors to know:
Lets break them down a bit and then, in a follow-up post, I will share three tools to help us provide TACTful communication.
Don’t you hate those spammy emails you get or the form letters that come in the mail? Most people do. Your emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, and other messages will have a much greater impact and reach when you target a specific audience with each message. A tweet to students will look different than a tweet for a parent – same with an email blast. An email to the parent of a Senior will be significantly different than one to the parent of a Freshman.
Creating lists that allow you to tailor each communication to the specific audience accomplishes two things at once: it gives the reader a sense that they are important to you and allows you to better do the second point of this acronym.
By targeting your communications, you are better able to provide accurate information with less confusion. For example, I have been doing parent info nights at school. I had one for juniors and seniors a few weeks ago to talk about college admissions and applications. Today, I was supposed to have a freshman and sophomore talk (but we are getting snow and the school is closed). Using my email blasts, I am able to delineate by grade who I send my emails to. I create two separate emails to send to each group because the freshman parents do not need to know and worry about all the super specifics that most of the senior parents do regarding college applications. Separating the information lets me get the most accurate and relevant information to the correct parties. The same rule applies to things like Tweets, Facebook Posts, and such. Starting it off with something like “Seniors:…” or similar lets readers quickly decide if the post is important to them.
Thinking about our communication style must include both clarity of the subject matter, as well as the visual structure of the message. Typically, with electronic communications – quick and concise is what people are looking for. Can you fit your three paragraph email into one paragraph? If so, think about doing it. Readers are consumers and you are battling with Justin Bieber’s tweets, three other open tabs, a calendar, and twenty more emails. When I open an email – I usually make a snap judgement whether I will read it or not based on its length. More than 4 paragraphs and it is a quick skim job. I can take the time to read the one paragraph emails. Your parents and students will do the same.
The aesthetics of your communications can also make reading the material enjoyable or a nightmare. Think about why Google and Gmail are some of the most used email and search engine platforms in the world – they are clear, clean, and easy to use. Try to emulate that when creating your emails and posts. Do you really need the fancy script fonts or to use (arguably the most hated font ever) Comic San Serif in every email? It may look cute to you, but think about the reader. Are they reading your email for the cute-factor or for the information? One final note about clear visuals – use a good color scheme. Make sure that things are not cluttered, hard to read, or just plain ugly. If you need some help – there are entire sites dedicated to coloring schemes and this type of information.
Look at your local news – do they have a newscast at 3:10pm some days and 4:35pm others? No – they have “the 6 o’clock news”. Why? Because people are creatures of habit and are more likely to pay attention when doing so is a regular occurrence. They also don’t usually report on things that happened two weeks ago (unless some new breakthrough took place that day). If you want to talk about something in an email or social media post, make sure that is done in a timely fashion. Plan a time to send out a weekly or bi-weekly email blast and stick to the schedule. That way readers are expecting it.
Communication does not stop and it is a constant game to play – I usually tweet and Facebook for work from home. One reason is because I have bigger things to do at work and another is because Facebook is blocked at work.
This post is not very concise, but I also know my target audience. You are all highly-educated and are used to reading longer articles about things you are interested in. I hope that this information has been useful and I look forward to sharing a few of the tools I use in my communication in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned.