(I posted this several years ago. It remains one post that I’ve printed more than any other to give to individuals I meet with in my office. I decided it was worth sharing again.)
I want to encourage you to write a letter today (if needed).
In counseling people who are experiencing difficulty in a relationship I have often encouraged them to practice the art of letter-writing. Most of the time I try 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; when one person refuses to listen to reason or even give the other person an audience, or when one person is so intimidating to talk to that a point is hard to make with them verbally. Some things seem to convey more importance and get closer attention if they are written rather than just spoken.
A letter allows you to think through what you have to say and cuts down on reactionary arguments that 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, this is also NOT email. This is letter writing. That requires a paper and pen, or at least a printer and paper. Email quickly becomes an exchange of ideas that can almost be as counter-productive as the verbal communication. It’s too easy to hit the “reply” button quickly with emails. This is usually a near “final straw” kind of approach, so put the time into it that it requires.
I’m not advocating that you avoid personal conversations, but if the situation calls for it…
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.)
- 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”. It puts people on the defensive. (This is what editing is all about.)
- Try to express your true heart; not your anger. 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. If an apology is needed, 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 read the letter. You can be assured they will!
I hope you never have to write the type letter discussed in this post. Chances are, however, if you live a normal life there will be a few situations that merit the true art of letter writing. Write well!
Have you seen where a letter helps a situation better than an face-to-face encounter?