Specificity is the cornerstone of effective business communications. Specificity commands attention. Specificity is memorable. Headline writers have figured this out, and so have successful Tweeters. The specific statement will capture your attention.
Non-specific: A country in the European Union faces imminent default, which could affect financial markets.
Specific: A default in Greece on Monday will cause global markets to plummet more than 3%.
Specificity is critical for action, because it accomplishes two things at once: it (1) commands attention, and (2) eliminates ambiguity
Responses that lack specificity have almost no meaning. They are subjective. Take the word “soon.” Soon is subjective and imprecise. A nonspecific statement may be interpreted differently by different people. One of the big problems caused by a lack of specificity has to do with the concept of time.
It can mean minutes; it can mean decades. For example: Soon we will send human beings to Mars. Or:
Customer: Waiter, when will my order be ready?
Waiter: Oh, the kitchen said it would be out soon.
Soon connotes the illusion of precision, but it is anything but precise. This would become clear if your meal arrived five minutes before you had to leave.
If you had to catch a movie, you would have been wise to let the waiter know exactly when. But if all you said was, We’re seeing a movie soon, can we order now?, the waiter might not even bother to inform the chef.
Specific deadlines are the rivulets that flow through the veins of your business. Your request loses urgency without specificity. There are urgent shipments, urgent deliveries, and urgent meetings.
For example, say you are a CEO expecting coffee to be delivered to the conference room at 6:30 a.m. for a meeting with a key client who agreed to meet before flying out of town. Coffee? Really? That’s an urgent communication? The point is that urgent communications are colored by context. Your co-worker might ask you to bring in a coffee, and if it doesn’t arrive, well, the consequences of failure are small. But, when the CEO asks for coffee, that request has a stature and consequence that can lead to much hotter water if left unfulfilled.
So, let’s get specific. Not soon … NOW.