While people in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, well even 90’s and the early part of the millennium also had 24 hours in a day; somehow our 24 hours seem to have just shrunk miserably. There is always so much to do in such little time. The task list at work has grown bigger and the responsibilities at home are unceasing. Then there is the added pressure of staying on top of what is trending all over the internet and keeping up with the Joneses in our Social media world.
Given the constant onslaught on our senses, putting time into writing coherent, cogent, consciously thought out emails is really not on top of our prioritized heap. Hence, the quick fixes and short cuts we have begun to adopt, without realizing that we dig a deep hole for our professional avatars when paying disregard to how we communicate in our business roles.
It would help if we attempted to avoid some of the following ten bloopers when we hit the keypad –
1. Incorrect salutation / Wrong form of addressing
You have to believe it when I tell you how ridiculously I was called out by a telemarketer recently. When I picked up the call she asked to speak to “Dhir L. Aruna”. I asked her why was she addressing me in such an outlandish fashion and she said, without the virtual batting of an eyelid, “That is how it is written in the document I have in my hand.”
There are different ways to address people with different designations ranging from Mr., Ms. (helps to avoid Miss or Mrs. saving you from making more goof-ups. Further, in business matters, Ms. is more unequivocal, formal and professional than either Miss or Mrs.), Dr., Your Excellency, The Honourable and so on. We have set out guidelines available to us in each case. Please use them.
Also, when you are writing to a neutral-sounding name do a background check on what gender the person belongs to and address them correctly. Though not any less in others, this becomes quite important in the service industry where you have a direct relationship with a customer/guest.
I once addressed a certain Blaise M as “Ms. M” because I had encountered a female Blaise in the past but here I was dealing with a male Managing Director. I was pretty embarrassed about the faux pas, which could have been easily avoided. Andrea, Alex, Jordan, Jamie, Morgan, Taylor, Chandra, Kiran, Jyoti, Shashi....the world is full of people with unisex names. Do a little research on the relevant recipient in order to get your salutation right.
Then there follows the next thing after the salutation. What is the best form of addressing a business associate? If you are an American or Australian it may be OK to get on to Peter, Katherine or Edward or even to Pete, Kate or Ed in the second mail itself. Even in the case of these nationalities, please wait for the addressee to give you that leeway. The world, it seems, is filled with too many people who are eager to cross the bar and jump into the area of over-familiarity.
But do that with Europeans, Asians, Far East Asians and you are walking on thin ice that could quickly snap and sink you into the cold shoulder reservoir.
I don’t understand the recent practice of e-retailers who work on an algorithm that automatically picks up the first name. I find it quite atrocious and unprofessional bordering on rude to be addressed as Aruna by the virtual (nameless, faceless) book vendor, furniture supplier, banker, grocer, credit card rep and the like. Since their system is based on a pre-written code why can’t they get their salutation right and stick to the tried and tested, old fashioned way of writing to a Mr. or Ms. so and so?
Again, in the service industry – be it hotels, banks, hospitals, insurance..... - it is safe to stick to the conservative Mr. or Mrs. Smith to set the ball of official communication rolling.
2. Using SMS language or other Acronyms
We are surely and quite dreadfully becoming the generation that communicates in ‘textese.’
As if ASAP, BTW, THX, FYI, Ha Ha were not already pretty bad, we are now resorting to C U, IMHO, GR8, MSG, IDK in our emails. The latest inductee in the Communication Hall of Shame to get the Oxford Dictionary recognition is NBD. But in business communication, this matter is a Big Deal!
With modes of our daily communication getting smaller, the case of us using them to communicate officially is increasing. For a lot of practical reasons, the first casualty – which seems superfluous in the times of the tablet – to be crucified is punctuation.
We commit this error, even if it puts us in the category of cheats and felons. Sample this –
Let’s eat Grandpa
Let’s eat, Grandpa
Using textese in official communication shows you in a bad light, makes you appear lazy and worst of all, threatens to change the import of your communication capsule.
Similarly, acronyms are extremely contextual and country specific. On my first trip to the US, when I failed to comprehend a colloquialism, a cousin scoffed saying I was F.O.B. The joke was lost on me.
Officially recognized acronyms such as UNICEF, NATO, WTO, AIDS are universally acceptable and understood. So, there is no problem in using them. Even CRM, DM, B2B, B2C, CPC, DNS, GA, HTML, KPI are an integral part of our Business lingo, easy to comprehend and relate to.
What causes a problem is the usage of the informal ones, even if you must send in a reply or submit a report ASAP. Definitely steer clear of OMG, IMHO, NSFW, WYSIWYG, LOL, TTYL and some of the other new world language croppers that, IMO, take the essence and flow away from the text.
Be mindful about dipping into the overused FYI, FYA, BTW, B4, BRB, PLZ, CU, the abominable K, the illiterate UR and the incoherent TY.
Increasing and widespread usage of SMSese or chatspeak has, indeed, corrupted our language, affected our comprehension and limited our linguistic skills.
3. Sending too many attachments
Attachments can be hugely irksome; especially on hand-held devices.
A leading news website I wish to write for, gives specific instructions while inviting a writer pitch. “Please do not send attachements,” it says categorically. “Cut and paste or write into the body of the email all the responses we seek to our queries,” it adds.
Unless specifically asked for or when really important to the matter at hand – for instance attaching a CV to the job application, sending a report document, a brochure design PDF – desist from adding weight to your mail by needlessly pinning attachments to it.
Attachments are, often, invited by the recipient or offered by the sender when you are in your second or third stage of dialogue. Also, send only the requisite amount, even when you must upsell yourself or your product.
4. Getting too familiar in our tone
It could be because we have too much on our plate, or because we wish to save time for our other pursuits or diddle away precious time on our social media activities so much that we are in a maniacal frenzy to get the important work done. We may also feel that appearing close to a professional contact or a figure of authority will bring us some benefit. Whatever is our excuse, some of us are getting too familiar in the way we communicate officially.
I, recently, received a formal note from a junior colleague who wished to enlist my help in writing/editing with a “Hello, there.” No, it was not a SPAM or a lottery scam from Nigeria. The person was from my industry, was writing to seek formal help and was attempting to create an impression.
Some obnoxious notes end with a callously casual, “Do call me,” which is not only grammatically incorrect but also makes the sender come across as pompously presumptuous.
More often than not, our disembodied voice and the content of our message conveyed over the phone or a business letter we send ahead of establishing a formal connection, are the first impressions we leave on the mind of the recipient. Then, why do we risk our reputation by doing a shoddy job when even that first instance can be used to our benefit.
Becoming too friendly instead of staying professionally warm makes you cross the line of decorum making you appear as a pushover and an eager-beaver.
5. Trusting the Autocorrect blindly / not using spell check
At my first hotel job with the Hyatt Group, I was sending a note to the General Manager and I missed the crucial “l” in my designation as a terrible typographical error. Though, in hindsight, it seemed like a comical caper, at the time I was hugely embarrassed and had a tough time facing the boss for days.
Autocorrect has been seen changing Goldman Sachs to Goddamn Sachs, Public to Pubic, Dear to Dead, Party to Patty and the always hilarious ‘meeting with clients’ to ‘mating with clients.’
Autocorrect has a brain of its own and is known to put not only your job in danger but destroy your painfully built reputation too. The web is filled with ‘Damn You Autocorrect’ sites that can help you kill time on a lazy Sunday afternoon but do not let the Computer fed, algorithmically driven Net mind to make you lose your own.
In Part 2 of this article, we will look at the remaining five mistakes we commit, intentionally or inadvertently, in our communication.