Write one True Sentence


Long Island Iced TeaLong Island Iced Tea

Put one measure each vodka, gin, white rum, and white tequila, plus a half measure of triple sec and the juice of one lemon into a shaker. Shake vigorously over ice and pour entire contents into pint glass. Add cola to top. Garnish with lemon wedge.

One of Ernest Hemingway’s greatest works was A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his time in Paris. Much of the wisdom he shared is embodied in his works. HR managers may not be writing great works of fiction (I hope not), but we can all benefit from his writing style.

Nobody likes being the bearer of bad news, but as an HR manager, your job is to give people what they need, not necessarily what they want. How you communicate that is important, but it is essential that you not “bury the lead.” Hemingway advises “Write the truest sentence that you know.” This sentence is the message your recipient needs to hear. “You have exceeded your sick leave allocation” or “Your conduct is in violation of policy 3215.8a which states:…” Hemingway advises that a writer cut out all ornamentation. Note the above statements do not include “it is the opinion of…” or “unfortunately.” These phrases do not contribute to the message and, in a sense, contradict it. Remove the ornamentation, stick with “just the facts.”

Two, provide an alternative if one is available. “You have exceeded your sick leave allocation. You are eligible for FMLA leave, which provides the time off without compensation. Please contact me for details.” “Your conduct is in violation of policy 3215.8a, which states…If you disagree with the results of the investigation or have questions about the corrective action plan, please contact me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX before noon on Friday.” Alternately, you can provide the details in the e-mail or phone call, so long as you’re not burying the lead.

Finally, don’t wait to deliver the message. A habit many managers have is to wait until the end of a shift to address the issue with the employee. Perhaps it’s their fear that the employee will leave or, alternately that they’ll stay and make the environment toxic for everybody. If that is an issue, take the option out of their hand. Either send them home the rest of the day with pay or let them go back to their duties, but monitor them.

I’m not sure if Papa Hemingway ever had a Long Island Iced Tea. I suspect he would say “if I wanted iced tea, put a tea bag in ice water, if I want to get drunk quickly, give me a bottle of bourbon.” Either way, he would recommend the same thing he does with his writing: “[make] the best [drink] that you can and [make] it as straight as you can.”


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