When emails first became ubiquitous, some people didn’t treat them as they would a hard copy letter.
You weren’t always addressed by name, they didn’t necessarily sign off and occasionally you were lucky if you received a one-sentence reply to your inquiry.
I’m amazed at the way some people still insist on broadcasting their views in CAPS, even though this is now widely regarded as “shouting” and a turnoff.
Flippant, abrupt or expedient
Many of us hurry and take short cuts – and in texts it makes sense. Is it flippant or expedient? For me texts are quick messages – we excuse typos and shorthand.
But what about emails? The short cuts can give a feeling of being abrupt. You might excuse this brand of abruptness or flippancy as “just their way” or “s/he was in a hurry”. Older users can be as guilty of abruptness when communicating as younger people.
Is flippancy, abruptness or over-familiarity a substitute for thoughtful communication? In my book, no. Far better to think carefully about what you’re going to say before flicking off responses to colleagues, or knee-jerk reactions to something you’ve just read. After all, what’s your hurry? Is rapid-fire emailing/ texting/posting/ranting in this flatulent way really a demonstration of your thoughtful collaborative style?
Take a few seconds to think about how your text or email is being received – BEFORE you push send. Not a bad idea to check it is to the right person too!
When is it OK to use an emoticon in office communications, and with whom? I used to see it as childish – maybe because I hadn’t found a nice source of them or accessed them easily. Or perhaps because the early users seemed to lack substance in the rest of their work.
I think I judged too harshly. I now like the odd smiley face used to acknowledge or show pleasure J or a sad one showing disappointment L. The issue is that you really need a relationship with someone FIRST before sending off this casual form of expression.
There is some research showing that people who usefully deploy emoticons may have a positive impact on their recipients. The real issue here, again, is that many of us need to first read things carefully and choose our responses appropriately. It’s about addressing or prioritising all that’s been asked when we respond to a request or a letter, and not cherry-pick or overreact to one element in that person’s communication.
Languages and expressing oneself are evolving and we all possess a voice (so to speak), so time will tell whether emoticons clear up or compound misunderstandings.
Apparently when telephones were first invented, people would pick up the receiver and answer with “ahoy!” (presumably thinking of the geographical distance between caller and recipient). It reportedly took the lateral-thinking Thomas Edison to suggest that a simple “hello” would do.
It’s amazing how a meaningful one-size-fits-all solution like Edison’s set a precedent that maintains the social bar at an optimal level, irrespective of the medium.
Thoughtful communication tips
- Keep emoticons for an occasional bit of sugar on your management cereal or a splash of fun on a dreary work-day, but don’t make it a substitute for thoughtful communication. And reserve use with strangers.
- Don’t use emoticons for an apology, nor for feedback. They are OK for congratulations, especially if you’ve already established good relations with team members and friends at work (they will certainly get it).
- If you’re a manager or employer, set the social media and internal/external tone of emails as you would like to be treated. We are carving out new territory here, so it pays – as it does everywhere else – to be thoughtful and mindful.
- Talk to your team and see what they all regard as appropriate in emails and other social media forums. Discuss as a team the style of emails that are desirable – e.g. bullet points for actions, numbered lists, etc.
- Take into account different generational attitudes and agree to a workable compromise between different team members.
- Be careful with emails at work, and address all points thoughtfully. Make sure you have covered all the issues before you send off a knee-jerk speedy response.
- If an email contains sensitive information, get a second (or third opinion) – don’t just bung out your response and be surprised when someone is angry.
Above all, decide carefully who should be CCd and THINK before you press SEND.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.