A week fending off details’ dark side … and what you can learn from it.

Details smooch around in dark corners with their fedoras pulled down low, lying in wait for you. Or, sometimes they travel en masse mob style, gesturing suggestively with baseball bats. Eventually, they catch up to all of us. For me the past week was a great example of how even when things are going well and you’re humming along efficiently you may find yourself battling some detail dilemmas.

So, when I finished gnashing my teeth I started thinking proactive. How many communication dilemmas could be eliminated with simple detail-busting resolutions? It pays to plan for the small stuff. If you don’t, the small stuff will find you and make you pay.

Read up on these helpful hints to beat the details (at least with your communications) and practice them now.

Five important detail-pain avoiding habits:

1. Here’s the most important weapon in your defense against the details arsenal: don’t get cocky. Just look where arrogance got those Nasdaq staffers during the Facebook IPO. Nowhere. Fast. So, OK, you may be a professional communicator. It’s your job. You’ve been doing it for a few years or ten. And that’s cool. But don’t ever lose that tiny flutter of nerves before you hit send, or go up to speak or print an important presentation. What got Rupert Murdock? The details.

2. Check the attachment. I know, how stupid would you have to be to forget an attachment, or attach the wrong thing? No one does that!

Seriously, just check it. By that I mean: 1) confirm there is in fact a document attached to the email and 2) open that document and verify it is the one you meant to attach. We get very comfortable with our technology, secure in the knowledge it will do what we want. But it doesn’t. It does what we tell it to. And sometimes we tell it to send without attaching a document, or attaching the wrong document. Don’t believe me? Read on.

I am working with a national television celebrity on a media event in Nashville. I created a great proposal, which I sent to him in an email. I remembered the attachment. Sadly, later I realized I sent him a copy of the proposal with a question to a colleague highlighted in screechingly bold canary yellow.  If I had just checked the attachment I would have realized that note was there. Luckily, it was something innocuous. However, what if it had been worse? Which leads me to …

3. Your mother was right. If you can’t say something nice … Never put something in writing – especially digital writing – you wouldn’t want public. I know it’s tempting. We are all very funny people and have very witty things to share. However, it is just too easy for word to get around. Without racking my brain too much I can personally think of more than a dozen stories of messages going awry; like:

  • The client who talked bad about his coworker in an email to me, but accidentally copied the coworker, too (ouch!).
  • An overworked and overwrought employee saying they were going to quit in an email to a coworker friend, just to have the boss sitting over the recipients’ shoulder when the message auto-popped up.
  • The executive who accidentally forwarded a note to his secretary to set up meetings to fire the following people … to the people getting laid off.

The majority of what we write is going to be out of our control. We can’t control the audience, or how long it lingers on a corporate server. We can’t just decide to never make stupid mistakes. Your only control is on the front end: the content. To quote my friend and former colleague Margie Newman, “the internet is not your diary.”

Oh, and always – always – check the To field before you hit send.

4. You know what’s the spice of life? That’s right … and nothing brings variety to your communications like a brand new shiny font. Oh, look – san serif! For the love of everything holy, stop in your acquiring zeal and know this: font downloading sites are one of the worst places to pick up a virus, malware and/or spyware. These things will do bad, bad things to your computer and potentially your life (tracking key strokes to pick up your passwords, for instance).

Truly, man cannot live by Times New Roman alone. So get your fonts, just go somewhere that doesn’t rip out your soul, I mean, infect your computer. Liz Tanquilit, a Nashville-based graphic designer and owner of Tanq Creative, knows a thing or two about fonts. She recommends fonts.com and myfonts.com for the basics and hype for type for more unique offerings.

5. Read your work one more time. It’s very rewarding to type on a computer. If on the off chance you make an error, the computer immediately notifies you of the gaffe, and you can immediately fix it. When you are finished, you are left with a pristine-looking page seemingly free of errors. Isn’t it tempting to just send that on?

Don’t do it. Even if you’ve gone through ounce and made some edits, read it again to make sure you caught them all and that the document now makes cents (see what I did there?).

Make these five detail-drama saving items habit, and you are on the road to an easier communications life. You remain on your own for other detail dilemmas (locked in keys, diapers in the toilet, a pen when you need it).