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Information & Communication - BLUF Your Way to Better Communication

Bad communication holds up everyone in an organization, creating traffic jams of wasted time and effort. Fortunately – whether email, meetings or one-on-one encounters – you can BLUF your way out of the mess. No, not “bluff” – in fact it’s the opposite. By teaching you to put critical information first, the BLUF method helps you colleagues cut through chaos, cull clutter and make communications crystal clear.

Goal


Improve communication in email and meetings/presentations – the two biggest workplace time-wasters – by getting to the point right away.

What is BLUF Your Way to Better Communication?
BLUF – short for Bottom Line Up Front – is a military acronym, describing a method of streamlining and clarifying communication in which important info comes first and background info comes later, to be read only if necessary. In the military, clear communication and exchange of information can have life-or-death consequences. In other organizations the stakes may be different, but communication can still mean the difference between a smooth-flowing team delivering a successful project ahead of schedule and endless delays, bad relationships and a toxic workplace born from unnecessary frustration. By integrating the principles of BLUF into your organization, you can teach managers can guide better, teams to work better and everyone to spend less time confused and more time connected.

How does BLUF Your Way to Better Communication improve employee engagement and culture?
In 2017, Carleton University researchers showed workers spent one-third of their office-based work time on email, while half of any work they did from home was email-related. Worse still, 30% of that email was rated unimportant but still got answered! The wasted time and effort led to discouraged workers, drained productivity and increased sick leave. In other words, email alone constitutes a major workplace problem. Meanwhile, a 2012 survey showed nearly half (47%) of respondents called unnecessary meetings their top time-waster. By tackling these communication-related catastrophes directly, BLUF reduces ambiguity and wasted time. Clearer communication saves everyone trouble, making work happier and freeing employees to focus on working better and smarter.

What are the benefits?
BLUF cuts through aimless verbiage by ensuring that everything has a goal – and that this goal gets presented right away. Only those who want more information need to read or listen beyond the first line.

How do you conduct BLUF Your Way to Better Communication in the workplace?
By employing the BLUF method yourself in outgoing email and other communication, you show how efficient it can be: by doing so, you save other people’s time and make their lives easier – a great way to motivate them to mimic your own BLUF behaviour. However, in larger organizations or those with siloed departments, you may want to institute training opportunities to make BLUF a company-wide initiative. That will take some time, but teaching others the BLUF method will help your organization get better at everything it does.

Action


When Crafting A Workplace Message, Remember: Bottom Line Up Front

Kabir Sehgal, a US Navy veteran writing for Harvard Business Review – not to mention author, investment banker and Grammy-winning music producer, so you know he knows about getting things done – suggests these tips for better workplace communication, based on practices learned in military life.

For email, start your subject line with a keyword, indicating the general category of response required. “REQUEST – vacation” is going to jump out in someone’s inbox, making it clear what is needed before it’s even opened. Providing information to someone but don’t need a reply? “INFO – status update” will do the trick. Other categories will depend on your role and your workplace, but examples include “ACTION,” “SIGN,” “DECISION,” “COORD” (for coordination required). The capital letters, Sehgal says, may seem shouty, so use your best judgment, but they make clear that the word is a category, and that helps your reader. Again, if you’re interacting with clients, you’ll want to scale this part back, but when working internally you can all agree on some standard labels for common situations, helping everyone navigate their inbox more quickly.

Next comes the heart of the BLUF: after greeting the recipient, state your most important thing right away by putting your Bottom-Line Up Front. You can even structure the message with a label. Sehgal uses this example:

“Subject: INFO – Working from home

Shannon,

Bottom Line: We will reduce the number of days that employees can work from home from three to one day per week effective December 1st.

Background:

-This is an effort…”

From here Sehgal lists a series of explanatory bullet points. By leading with the “bottom line,” however, this “background” is just that – it is there for those who need it but easy to ignore for those who don’t. Meanwhile, both groups will be clear on the central point of the message. Contrast this with most emails, where people spend much of the message “proving their point” before making it, and you see how this technique can save time for those composing and those receiving, keeping the focus on what needs to happen next.

The same method also works for presentations. Start with the biggest take-away on your first slide, and everyone will know why you’re talking about this topic and whether they should stay for the presentation or get back to their desk. And after the BLUF, the rest of your email or presentation can be as long or as short as you want – but you’ll probably find you don’t need to get into the details to the same extent having already shared your dramatic conclusion.

Lastly, while you want to put the Bottom Line Up Front, give some thought to how to close your message too. One study shows email ending with “Thanks” or variations get the highest response rates; something like “best wishes” scored lower. Apparently ending with a note of gratitude puts recipients in a good mood to reply – one more way good communication takes the stress out of everyone’s workday!

Reference Material
This is how much time you spend on work emails every day
You waste a lot of time at work
Forget “Best” or “Sincerely,” This Email Closing Gets the Most Replies

Updated on: 12/24/2020

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