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 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. No fact checking or many a times fudging facts
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.
Whether it is because we have not read the initial request carefully, 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.
2. Presuming our communication recipients are mind-readers
Why do we always presume that people can simply read our thoughts? 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.
Bosses are of the opinion that 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.
3. Raising our voice on e-mail
It has been universally stated that using all capital letters tantamounts to shouting on e-communication. And that is being grossly uncivil 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. Excessively using the cc option
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. Hitting the reply-all button
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, 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. Being an emotional vs rational professional
Communication is ‘the’ official carrier of our thoughts and emotions. 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. Blurring lines 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, 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. Usage of informal language/slang
Regardless of the changing times that are shortening the physical and virtual distance between two individuals and making the environment we work in far less formal, 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. Weaving 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.
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. Not responding
This is easily the worst of the lot. It is not only plain bad manners but 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.
And in these times of all the smart devices, androids and voice operated software at our disposal; there is just no getting away!
With over 16 years of experience with some of India and Asia’s top hotel brands, Aruna is a seasoned corporate communications specialist, PR strategist and writer who has taken a sabbatical, after holding the position of the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, in order to work on book projects on Public Relations & Communications, Hotels, Food and India respectively.
As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization of business communication and written manuals. Aruna has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International and participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA and Friendicoes to name a few.