Photo Credit: ...-Wink-... via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: …-Wink-… via Compfight cc

It’s a conundrum. Do amateurs struggle to write successfully in the workplace because they have too much or too little knowledge? The answer is “yes.” Here’s what I mean.

Amateurs suffer from too much knowledge about their message. In the workplace, it’s commonplace for writers to have more information than their readers. I mean . . . That’s why they are writing in the first place. (As I’ve said many times before, this situation is reversed in most student writing. And that creates a transition challenge when those former students enter the workforce.)

Psychologist and linguist, Steven Pinker talked about this when he spoke at Harvard’s regularly scheduled “Harvard Writers at Work Lecture Series” last fall. You can read about his talk in the Harvard Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:

Why is it so difficult to write well? Pinker described the primary culprit as “the curse of knowledge,” which he defined as “the failure to understand that other people don’t know what we know.” Pinker recommended a few methods to “exorcise” this curse, including “remember it as a handicap to overcome” and “show a draft [of your writing] to a representative reader” to see if it’s comprehensible. If it’s not, revise for clarity.

Good advice.

But amateurs also suffer from too little knowledge about the role of emotion — especially as it relates to their workplace readers — in communication. I’m talking about emotional intelligence (EI). Mayer & Salovey’s four branch model of EI involves the abilities to:

  1. accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others
  2. use emotions to facilitate thinking
  3. understand emotional meanings, and
  4. manage emotions

I believe these abilities are especially lacking in amateur workplace writers, who don’t often perceive how readers will respond to their message, which means they can’t use those predicted perceptions to guide their plans for crafting a written message.

I was surprised to locate little research in this area. One experimental study of students writing in English as a foreign language did find that explicit attention to developing emotional intelligence in the classroom resulted in greater language fluency and relevance (Pishghadam’s “Emotional and Verbal Intelligences in Language Learning” in the 2009 volume of Iranian Journal of Language Studies).

Sounds like an area that deserves some attention . . .