I recently worked with a company that matched the profile of my ideal client. The company had a valued employee who excelled at his job but whose written communication skills were problematic. Emails contained numerous errors. Written reports required massive revision and editing from his supervisor. The company spoke about this employee with great respect, and assured me that he was one of the most hard-working employees I would ever meet.
Their description of the situation was the first indicator I had about the complexity of the issue. Although the emails were full of what appeared to be careless errors, this employee was not careless in any other aspects of his job. In fact, he was one of the most attentive, dedicated employees in their department.
I assessed writing samples before I met with the employee, and did a thorough error analysis. There were specific rules of standard grammar and punctuation that the employee had not yet internalized. He also needed support knowing how to break large writing tasks–such as a long report–into organized planning, drafting, revising, and editing steps. The top priority, however, was figuring out how to eliminate the errors he made in his emails.
We worked for several weeks and saw steady progress in all three areas. He learned how to break large writing tasks down into manageable chunks and produced several long reports with ease and confidence. The visual approach we used to cover grammar rules and mechanics made sense to him, and he mastered the content quickly. The strategies we implemented for editing his emails did work, and the number of errors initially decreased. However, as we neared the end of our work together, this was the one area we continued to see discrepancy. He was working hard, and doing everything he had learned. Yet a significant number of his outgoing emails still contained a high percentage of seemingly careless errors.
I did more research, and asked my client to return to the basics with me. Using a sentence he had written, I asked him to read the same sentence on his computer screen first, then on paper, and finally on an angled iPad screen. In all three trials, his brain autocorrected the error that was present in his writing. He could not see the error, and read the sentence as if it had already been corrected.
Then I asked him to use a free text-to-speech app that read the sentence out loud to him. He heard and corrected the error immediately, laughing with some discomfort at how obvious the error was. We continued to test this application, and found that, by using this tool in conjunction with the other skills he mastered through our work together, my client was able to independently identify and correct nearly 100% of the errors he made in his writing. With this final triumph, he had overcome and resolved every issue of concern his employer had identified.
For every kind of error that is made, and for every aspect of a communication breakdown, there is a structure and strategy available to change the outcome. The key to success is found in our willingness to suspend our assumptions about the problem so that we can address what is at the root of the issue. I am grateful to employers who see “careless” errors and dare to ask, “What can be done about this?” I am humbled by the trust and courage of the clients who work with us and help prove that some errors were never careless.