Putting it into Practice

Being clear is a critical part of business communication. In order to accomplish work with your receiver, your receiver needs a clear understanding of the information you are communicating and the actions you are requesting.

Now that you’ve learned the basics of how to compose a clear message—from the big picture, to the nitty-gritty details, to the overall visual appearance, you are ready to begin practicing and applying the clear competency. In this section, you will learn and practice presenting information clearly in a variety of “people management” messages that document agreements, personnel matters, and sexual harassment.

Message Strategy: Documenting Personnel Decisions

Documenting important decisions and activities is good business practice. By documenting, you provide a retrievable record that can be used by yourself and others. It can help you accurately recall details. It can help others in your organization access institutional knowledge that would otherwise be dependent upon your memory (and dependent on them knowing that you are the person who might remember). It can even help you settle minor disputes that arise from conflicting memories of events.

Business professionals document a wide variety of activities: standard procedures, policy changes, client consultations, departmental decisions, and personnel actions. Here are some specific strategies for documenting personnel actions clearly.

Some of the easiest kinds of personnel actions that must be documented are personnel decisions. When job candidates are hired, they should receive a formal offer letter; if they are not hired, they should receive a polite rejection letter. If employees negotiate a raise or an extra week of vacation or flexible work arrangements, those decisions should be documented, too.

These basic strategies will help you as you document personnel decisions:

Include All Relevant Information

Identify the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Anticipate questions your receiver may have and answer them. Also, be precise in your explanation and clarify any foreseeable ambiguity. For example, is a bonus payment for taking on an additional assignment a lump-sum payment? Or will it be distributed across several pay periods?

Keep the Tone Professional and Positive

Documentation of personnel issues can sometimes be forwarded to multiple parties beyond the primary receiver (employees, their supervisors and unit managers, administrative assistants, and human resources). Be sure you are representing yourself and your organization well.

File Your Message for Easy Retrieval

Documentation isn’t helpful if you and others can’t find it. If your documentation will be sent via email, write an intuitive subject line that will make it easily searchable by you and your receiver. If the documentation will be private and reside as a document saved to your computer, give it an easily searchable file name, use the properties function of your word processing program to set searchable keywords or tags, and save it in a folder that will be easy and logical to find. If you will place the documentation in a hardcopy file (such as a personnel file kept in the Human Resources office), format the documentation with high skim value so that people leafing through multiple sheets of paper can easily spot your message. Also include the date it was prepared (it won’t be automatically date-stamped like an email will be) and note cross-references to any supporting files, whether electronic or hard copy.

The following is a sample message a manager might send to an employee after they negotiated tuition reimbursement. Note that the message clearly documents that the request was approved and articulates the conditions of the approval. At any point in the future, if there is confusion about whether a reimbursement payment should be made or denied, the manager could return to this message.


TO: dante.spurlock@mcgregor.com
SUBJECT: Approval of Tuition Reimbursement Request
CC: HRDepartment@mcgregor.com


We are pleased to approve your request for reimbursement of tuition for the MBA program at City University. Below are the conditions of the reimbursement.

  • We will reimburse tuition and fees on a semester-by-semester basis, up to $10,000 per semester, and up to $40,000 total.
  • You must earn a 3.0 GPA to be reimbursed for the full amount. For any grade of C+ or lower, we will prorate your reimbursement accordingly (e.g., a semester with 3 A/B grades and 1 C/D/F grade will be reimbursed only up to 75%).
  • Tuition reimbursement is contingent upon your remaining a full-time employee in good standing at McGregor & Co.

Additionally, we will accommodate your course schedule by guaranteeing release time by 5 p.m. on evenings when class is scheduled. Please provide your manager with your class schedule at least one month in advance. Also, please work closely with your manager to make arrangements to cover work in your absence.

Congratulations, again, on your acceptance to the MBA program at City University.

Best of luck,


Michael F. Williams | Manager
McGregor & Co.
12345 Main Street
Hometown, KY 40292


In a perfect world, managers would always follow best practices for documenting decisions. But in the real world, there are times when they don’t. If you are an employee and you negotiate a documentable outcome, but your manager does not send you proper documentation, you should follow-up with your own message.



TO: michael.williams@mcgregor.com
SUBJECT: Follow-Up on Request for Tuition Reimbursement


Thank you for talking with on Monday about my plans to pursue an MBA at City University. I cannot begin to tell you how appreciative I am of the support you and McGregor & Co. are providing. It really means the world to me. I am writing now to confirm my understanding of our agreement.

At our meeting, you said that McGregor & Co. will reimburse me $40,000 for tuition as long as I maintain a 3.0 GPA. The tuition reimbursement will be payable in four installments ($10,000 per semester), and I will file all paperwork with the HR department.

Also, I will have permission to leave by 5 p.m. on evenings when I have classes.

Please let me know if there is anything I missed or that needs further clarification.

And again, thank you for your support of my MBA journey.



D’Ante Spurlock | Business Analyst
McGregor & Co.
12345 Main Street
Hometown, KY 40292

Message Strategy: Documenting Employee Performance

Another kind of documentation that managers often write deals with employee performance issues. Documenting performance issues leaves a critical “paper trail” that can be used to support future action.

Consider this scenario. One of your employees, Cameron, is chronically late to work. Cameron’s tardiness is causing multiple problems across the unit. Meetings are starting late, early morning customer calls are going unanswered, and his team is getting frustrated.

As his manager, you talked privately with Cameron about his performance. In your conversation, he agreed to do better.[1] Cameron did do better—for a couple weeks. Then he started showing up late again. You talked to him again, this time more sternly. Yet, the pattern repeated. He was on time for a couple weeks and then chronically tardy once again.

If you documented each of these conversations, you would have an important record of Cameron’s performance. You might use these messages for your own recall: When did you talk to him last? What exactly did you agree to? And that information could help you in your ongoing conversations with Cameron. If you decide to put Cameron on probation or fire him because he is too unreliable, you might need these messages to support your decision. If you leave your position, this documentation will provide the incoming manager with a clear record of Cameron’s past performance.

Here are some strategies for documenting employee performance issues:

Strike a Constructive Tone

Given your instrumental goals (getting your employee to change a behavior) and relational goals (maintaining a positive working relationship), harshness won’t serve you well—at least in early feedback. Be polite and emphasize the positive instead of focusing on the negative.

Clearly State Your Expectations

If you want real behavioral change, then you have to let your employees know exactly what your expectations are. Agreeing that an employee will “do better” is not very clear. Providing a precise (and measurable, if possible) standard is much better.

Clearly Document Supporting Information Separately

Even though your message to your employee is constructively framed, you still need to retain full details in case performance does not improve. A separate, privately held document can hold a host of details and impressions that can be used for future reference.

Here is an example of message you could send to Cameron following the meeting.



TO: cameron.hansen@mcgregor.com
SUBJECT: Improving Punctuality


I am writing to follow-up on our meeting this morning where we discussed your recent attendance record and the importance of being on time for work.

To recap the outcome of our meeting, you committed to be at your desk and ready to go by your scheduled start time of 8:30 a.m. Should there be any extenuating circumstance that prevents you from being on time, you have agreed to send me a text alert prior to 8:30.

I appreciate your willingness to develop your time management skills and to commit to being on time for work from this point forward. I look forward to our check-in meeting on October 25.


Marissa Tanis | Team Leader
McGregor & Co.
12345 Main Street
Hometown, KY 40292


Often it is helpful to record some “unedited” private notes that includes additional information about the encounter. Here is an example of private documentation that will be filed away in case another performance meeting is warranted. Notes can be typed or handwritten. But they should be somewhere that is easily searchable.


October 11, 2024

I monitored Cameron Hansen’s attendance this week (Oct 7 – 11). He was late every day:

10 minutes
5 minutes
20 minutes
15 minutes
10 minutes

I called Cameron into my office this morning to discuss his tardiness. I explained the negative impact it was having on his and his team’s performance.

At first, Cameron attempted to minimize the problem saying he doesn’t remember being late, but if he was, “it was only once and only by a couple minutes.” I showed him my record to remind him of his recent performance.

Cameron said that there weren’t any specific obstacles for him getting to work on time. The problem appears to stem from time management issues. He promised to do better, and I offered him some time management strategies.

We scheduled a “check-in” meeting in two weeks (10/25). I emailed a follow-up note to Cameron.


Message Strategy: Reporting Improper or Illegal Behavior

Nearly every day in the news there is at least one story about people behaving badly at work. Stories abound about people embezzling money from their company, defrauding customers, and sexually harassing or assaulting coworkers. Because improper behavior raises questions of leader effectiveness, exposes organizations to lawsuits, and jeopardizes the organization’s reputation with the community, stakes are high.

Therefore, if one of your employees is accused of improper behavior—or if you are accusing someone else in the organization of improper behavior—it is vital that you clearly document the facts. The documentation will help you remember specific details and it may serve as an official record whether in company decision-making or legal action.

Here is some advice for documenting improper behavior:

Be Brave

Sometimes documenting organizational wrongdoing or improper behavior can be emotionally difficult. If the wrong-doer is a powerful person in the company, a beloved public figure or community leader, or even someone you consider a friend, it raises the stakes considerably, as you may risk professional or personal retaliation. Other times, the improper behavior itself can be difficult or embarrassing to talk about—such as sexual harassment or assault. If you cannot muster enough bravery on your own, find an ally or mentor in your organization who can encourage you to speak up.

Seek Professional Guidance

If you face a serious personnel behavior problem, contact professionals to help you navigate what to do and what to document. Senior leadership, the human resources department, and legal counsel are great places to start. They also are good resources for reviewing your documentation before you share the message with others.

Be Precise

In high stakes communication, there is little, if any, room for ambiguity or imprecise language. Make absolute sure that you are reporting all details accurately. Use full names in documentation. Instead of saying “about two weeks ago,” identify the exact date. If you are reporting what someone told you and not something you personally witnessed, then be clear about that as well. Instead of saying, “Amy sent a threatening text message to Bryce,” say “Bryce reported to me that Amy sent him a threatening text message.” The difference is subtle, but important. In the first message, you are personally evaluating the tone of the message. In the second, you are stating a fact without passing judgment. The precision will important, especially if you ever have to testify in an internal investigation or a legal procedure.

Take a Neutral Position

Especially when there are legal issues involved in a case, make sure that you are not acting as a judge and jury. Present your facts in the most unbiased way possible. One way you can check for bias is to remove adjectives and adverbs. You might also use less descriptive verbs. These word choices tend to create a more biased account. Consider the difference between, “Joe spitefully snapped that…” and “Joe replied that…”

Here we provide an example of how you might document an employee’s claim of sexual harassment.


TO: hector.lopez@mcgregor.com
SUBJECT: Report of Sexual Harassment


This morning, one of my employees, Karan Blake, has accused another employee, Gerald Hoffer, of sexual harassment. Below is a summary of the accusation.

Karan came to my office at approximately 9:15. She reported to me that she is being sexually harassed by Gerry. Karan appeared visibly upset. She cried during the meeting and repeatedly said that she is “afraid of Gerry.”

She said that she and Gerry had gone on two dates together last month. But after the second date, she was no longer interested in seeing him romantically. Karan said that she told Gerry that she did not want to go out again, but that Gerry “won’t take no for an answer.” She also said that she has been very clear in asking Gerry to stop contacting her.

Karan said that she has received flowers delivered to the office that she suspects are from Gerry. She gave them to the receptionist. She also said that Gerry sent more than 20 text messages to her yesterday, the last of which was an “inappropriate picture.” She did not offer to show me the texts, nor I did not request to see them. Karan reported that she has since then blocked Gerry’s number.

At that point in the meeting, I reassured Karan that we take accusations of sexual harassment very seriously at McGregor & Co. I informed her that I would be reporting this issue to Human Resources for further action and that someone from HR would be getting back to her shortly with next steps.

Immediately following our meeting, I phoned you at 9:40 a.m. to inquire about the appropriate course of action. That is when you asked me to send an email recapping my conversation with Karan. I also understand that you will be handling the case from this point and that if anyone attempts to discuss the case with me (Karan, Gerry, or anyone else), that I will stop the conversation and refer them directly to you.

Please let me know if there is any additional information you need from me.

Thank you for your help,


Marissa Tanis | Team Leader
McGregor & Co.
12345 Main Street
Hometown, KY 40292




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Business Communication: Five Core Competencies Copyright © 2023 by Kristen Lucas, Jacob D. Rawlins, and Jenna Haugen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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