Email: lighten up!

I currently work as a consultant to a large financial institution. I work independently, so have kept my own email address. This is great, as it allows me to work into the evening while many of my colleagues in the US are still in the office. (This is dreadful, as it allows me to work into the evening while many of my colleagues in the US are still in the office.)

Given this state of affairs, I am slightly segregated from my client. I am not “one of them”, which has its benefits and its drawbacks. But given what I’m doing, all in all I think it’s a good thing. Doubtless the benefits of me being able to work out of hours more than outweigh the inconveniences that the segregation brings about.

A member of the client organisation recently commented that I could never be an employee there. When I asked as to why, she said that I was way too informal in my email communication.

I disagreed.

For me, just as with face-to-face communication, there is time for formality and time for informality. And that is not purely dependent on the audience. Just as with talking to people, there are times when you’ll be formal with your friends; and less formal with your colleagues.

The key is to gear your communication style to your audience and subject matter. And to be a bit bold in pushing against formality.

I recently presented to 20-or-so people, the majority of whom I’d never met. I gave an overview of a system, and talked of it “squirting out documents at the other end”. The lady mentioned above was horrified when she saw the deck. But the audience liked the informality. I was talking about an IT system in words that a child might use, stripping away any sense of complexity, focusing purely on the business need that these people had.

If I’d said “printing” or “producing”, the level of engagement in the session might have been less. And if one or two of the audience remembered the use of the word “squirting” half an hour after the session had ended, then it served its purpose.

And I do the same in email. When asked by email today whether something was ready to go live, my response: “You betcha. :-)” Formalists will argue that this isn’t sufficiently legally binding to sign off upon a requirement, nor is it appropriate for the working environment. I say “tosh”. If any member of your staff tries to argue that the above statement isn’t a ringing endorsement for go-live suitability, then you’re probably best getting rid of them.

You see, one of the reasons few people read their emails is that in the main they’re dull. My hope is that by adding some lightheartedness to otherwise mundane emails, I might at best get someone to read something they otherwise wouldn’t; and at worst I might have brightened someone’s day a smidgeon.

But in reality, I simply hope that people enjoy reading my emails.

I bet that my client organisation hasn’t written any guidelines dictating the manner in which emails should be written. Yes, they will have guidelines about whether email should be used for personal reasons. But I expect there will be nothing about the manner in which “formal” communications are written. Yet people settle into a routine. They follow the lead of their colleagues when they join the organisation.

I hope that by adding some spice, some zest, the odd smiley and a sprinkle of cheeky words, I add a little fun and enjoyment to the workplace.


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