Friday, 12 December 2014


Recently, I was approached for a job with one of the leading national business magazines. They are coming out with a new magazine on Hoteliers and were looking for an Editor. Though overall the assignment sounded very exciting, due to a number of other factors I had to turn down the position. Maybe, the personality traits exhibited (including through e-communication) could be one of the factors.

At the interview, the owner of the publishing house and the CEO had handed out a couple of magazines to me for reference, asking me to return one of the magazines whenever I had gone through it. On the third day from the day of the interview I wrote to them to thank them (sending thank you notes after an interview is considered one of the finest interviewee attitudinal aspects; but more on that later) for their time, for the lovely meeting we had had and to regret my availability for the position.

I got a reply from the CEO which I was shocked to go through. It had accusatory undertones. So what was really wrong with it? Let’s find out in the points listed below.

We all know that emails are the biggest aids, abettors and rescuers in business communication; so much so that we tend to use this vehicle even intra-departmentally. Regardless of what the health watchers will say, we still find it easier to tap on the keyboard and send mail than lifting ourselves even half up to confer over our cubicle walls.

Yet, in spite of the ease they bring to the way we communicate and conduct our business, we commit such glaring blunders that are nothing short of ‘communication crime.’ Here are a few to avoid, so as not to hang ourselves on the noose woven with threads of wrongful methods we adopt in our communication -

1.     Not sticking to facts (or not checking facts thoroughly)

It seems that we are in a tearing hurry to say our piece and hit the ‘send’ button. Goofing up on grammar and stumping ourselves with shoddy syntax is a minor issue. What is big is content that has not been checked to be factually correct, absolutely appropriate and relevant. People from my line of trade – Public Relations – tend to, ironically, commit this one quite a bit, given our propensity to be verbose, beat around the bush and weave unnecessary tapestry around what we actually want to state.

In that CEO’s response to my thank you note, he kept asking for papers & presentations that he had not given to me in the first place. I do not know what led him to it – amnesia, too much work load, carelessness; but at one point I was so irritated by his constant asking that I had a good mind to ask him to review his CCTV tapes.

Whether it is because we have not read the initial request carefully or are against a sharp deadline or are loaded with a multitude of tasks; we still do not have an excuse to send information that is not meaningful and correct. Our text, many a times, tends to get fluffy and superficial intended to just fill up the body of the mail.  Imagine the extent of disconcertment we put the receiver through by coming out as an indolent, incompetent individual.

With any mail that carries our signature at the end, the onus lies squarely on us to stick to the facts. No reason – real or imagined – is fit enough to cover our smudgy tracks. 

2.     Assuming others can read our minds

This is a basic communication flaw in general and not just with e-communication. This is also the root cause of most misunderstandings between every conceivable equation on this planet.

Parents feel children just know what is expected of them and vice versa. Bosses are of the opinion that the subordinates will magically know everything they are supposed to without proper, systematic and clear channels of communication. Guests are indignant if the hotels ever use the IDK option. Conversely, hotels have lost several dollars in damages only because they felt that their guests knew about the policies and had patiently read through the very fine print of all T&C.

In e-communication, this assumption costs us dearly. Without the benefit of our presence, with no body language or tone and modulation of our voice to assist us we become sorely handicapped when we leave gaps in our communication. Our baseless presumption that the person in front is tuned in into our chain of thoughts causes a terrible logjam.

Communication gurus have defined 7 C’s of effective communication, viz. Clear, Concise, Concrete, Correct, Coherent, Complete, and Courteous. And at least four of these assert the significance of complete lucidity in your communication.

3.     Using all caps

It has been universally stated that using all capital letters tantamounts to shouting on e-communication. And that is being grossly uncivil and impolite in any circumstance. The point we are trying to make is often lost in the noise we create by raising our voice. This holds true for e-communication too, with all caps blocking the flow and continuity of the remaining text.

So why do we do it? Whether it is to make a loud statement, have the words stand out, reinforce what we wish to say or plain laziness of removing the Caps Lock, text in all caps is always an eyesore.

There is a time and place for using all caps. It is a communication privilege that must be used judiciously.

4.     Copying to all

Going back to the erring CEO, all the mails he was writing to me, he was copying to everybody and their brother. Mind you, he was only replying to my thank you note and asking me to return ONE magazine that he had lent to me. Yet the mails (every back and forth of them) were copied to the Chairman, the Consulting Editor, the Editor of a sister magazine. Along the way he added a couple of more people including the new hire for the position that I had declined. I found it all truly absurd and annoying. A dialogue between two seemingly senior and mature professionals was being turned into a street square exchange with several unrelated or remotely related onlookers.

I don’t know about you but I stand guilty of this one. At times, when dealing with certain kind of crafty colleagues, one wishes to copy the communication to the boss. That is never a good idea as it amounts to tale-telling or unnecessarily ploughing a path to the Boss’s ear. What’s more, the Boss needs to know the beginning of a project and the outcome and not all the drama played out in between with its convoluted twists and turns; unless and until a major issue has cropped up.

The same applies to a lot of people we add to our cc list. It is essential that we reflect on the need, importance, role and significance of the names we wish to merrily add up. If they bring value to the discussion then we must go ahead and click on. If not, then we should let ourselves and others be; thereby allowing more important things to happen in the organizational cosmos and the universe at large.

5.     Replying to all

When you receive a mail that has already been copied to a large group of people; if all those that are cc’ed are significant links in the topic being covered in the mail then there is no problem whatsoever. You reply to them all too and get it done and over with.

But when people are copying mails to bring in authority or a larger ringside audience for the heck of it or for covering up their backsides or for making a superfluous point or for one-upmanship; it is then that you get sucked into the vortex of communication complications. If you omit some people in the reply back then it may appear that you have something to hide or fear. Also, it becomes an ego thing if the sender is copying to all and you do not return the favour. On the other hand, if you too copy to all then it becomes an e-tussle which neither party is willing to let go of, holding onto their piece of rotting meat like a terrier gone berserk. I really have this visualization each time I catch myself getting caught in this trap.

In either case, one is damned. Therefore, it would make a lot of sense, bring peace to the situation, ease up the matter at hand and streamline the two-way communication if we were to watch the cursor before it inches close to the cc button.

6.     Letting emotions get the better of sense

Communication is ‘the’ official carrier of our thoughts and emotions. Perhaps because we as human beings have the maximum number of emotions, including the sub-emotions we have created for our convenience; we love to play out our personal overly-dramatic soap operas, yes even on professional forums.

As extremely complex beings fighting to get a foothold on the higher planks on the Maslow Pyramid, yet slipping miserably ever so often on the lower bases, we often replace sense with schmaltz, rationality with rashness, wisdom with wilfulness.

With our bent towards over-emotionality we tend to rev up our reactions at the tiniest of real or imagined slight, we get into the quagmire of ego battles stemming from roles, responsibilities and designations and we play pliable pawns in the hands of that dreaded trinity of ‘power, leadership and control’ that has been foxing many a psychoanalyst from the time of Freud.

What’s worse in e-communication is that once we have let it out, the tirade and the torrent rests in the abyss of archives threatening to be unwantedly resurrected at a mere click of a few keys.

7.     Thinning the line between personal and professional

Riding on the high, unrestrained horse of emotions arrives this one; showing us in poor light both as a person and professional. When backed against a wall or held in a battle of wits or facing a threat to our perceived identity and the importance we hold for it in our own eyes, we resort to means that blur the difference between the two. Sometimes, it is also to show a state of familiarity with the person we are communicating with. But stepping on the line to get more on to the personal is a sign of over-familiarity and sheer impropriety.

Without being too starched up and stiff upper-lipped we must maintain the decorum and respect the rules that divide professional from the personal. There are dos and don’ts to be adhered to and observing them not only safeguards our reputation but also creates a conducive atmosphere for conducting dialogue and business.

8.     Using casual language and slang

First it was thought to be the lowest common denominator differentiating between the white and the blue collared. Then it tip-toed in with a set of new age professions which signalled post-war liberation and a sense of wild freedom that followed to herald the setting in of capitalism and materialistic rejoicing (think advertising and marketing). Next, it sort of became official together with Friday dressing and the over-riding success of Silicon Valley smartness. Finally, with digital revolution it tried to force its way in as a requisite to the changing modes of communication.

But regardless of the changing times, usage of casual language and slang will always be considered indecorous and unacceptable. Never mind the temptation from technology or the leeway sought from lethargy.

Use this only at your own risk. Just as people make opinions about you from your appearance, demeanour and body language; so do they from the e-persona and language you use in your communication, electronic and otherwise.

9.     Getting off on a tangent (and creating long threads of communication)

At one point we cry ourselves hoarse for facing daily exigencies and for the general lack of time. On the other, we sit in front of our computer screens getting entangled in long-winded web of words. We, carelessly, engage in stretched out back and forth dialogues that defeat the S.M.A.R.T objectives which should actually define our work strategies.

We forget that concise, concrete and coherent are integral aspects to the effectiveness of our communication; allowing ourselves to go with the mindless flow.

It is surprising how we take out time to fritter away the precious hours in inflated texts and ostensibly intellectual regurgitation, when clear, simple, to the point and crisp communication would stand us in better stead.

Before you crib at the water cooler about how little time you have to chew on the mountainous pile on your desk, step back to think about where your time is unwisely invested. If this is a problem area, like it is in most of our cases, then sit up and rectify. Also, if you see yourself getting caught in the mesh of meandering exchanges; immediately disengage, retract and get on the course of meaningful and productive communication.

10.                         And worst of all – not responding

This is plain bad manners and one of the highest forms of unprofessionalism. Yet we commit it; for lack of time or intent. Or because our decks are not clean enough, weighing as they may be under the deluge of excessively collected debris of unnecessary mails so much that we find it hard to fight our way to the more important stuff.

Sometimes, we reduce the significance of a mail or its sender by inflating our sense of importance that we feel it is okay not to respond. Often times, we hide behind excuses to cover up our ineptitude.
I, once, had a busy GM for a boss who made sure that he replied to every mail (personally and not through his secretary) even if it was with just a word or two.

I have also had the pleasure of dealing with some hotel chain owners who make it a point to respond. It does not matter whether the mail was written by an entrant or an advertising executive.

They know, like any professional would, that the loop of communication will close only once it has been replied to.

Like I said before, while in face-to-face conversation you still have body language to fall back on; in e-communication there is no recourse and you must meet the situation head on.

And in these times of all the smart devices, androids and voice operated software at our disposal; there is just no getting away!


Picture courtesy - Google Images

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