Monday, July 1, 2013

The pitfalls of informality

The workplace--architectural and otherwise--has changed radically in terms of formality in the last twenty or so years. Suits and ties have given way to khakis and jeans, typed letters are being replaced by emails, and even language itself has slid into a casual territory. Colleagues call each other "Dave" and "Becky" instead of "Mr. Swenson" and "Ms. McNeal". "Sir" and "ma'am" have been replaced with "yeah", "hey man", "yo, lady", "sure thing", and "no problem". 

While there's a certain ease and indeed relief to be associated with this new informality, let us not follow that slippery slope down to an absence of respect, for our clients, our consultants, and our colleagues. A client recently emailed an intern and me for a rendering image to be included in some marketing and fundraising materials. The intern sent back the image to the client with just this in the body of the email: "Here you go." 


This is not your aunt or your friend. That's right--your client is not your friend, they're your acquaintance at best. You don't get falling-down drunk in front of them, you don't make yo-mama jokes to them, and you definitely don't dash off three words to them in an email. The intern and I discussed this, and the next email in which the client asked for something got this response from her: "Mark, attached is the file you requested. Please let us know if you need anything else. Thanks, Sandy." Much better.

The formality--even and especially from interns--reminds my intern's client that even with her young age, she went to college, is a properly-trained professional, and she respects the fact that he cuts the checks that keep our lights on and doors open. Furthermore, an email that looks like someone took the time to write actual, coherent sentences subtly tells the client that the writer also takes his/her time when working on other things, like floor plans and details, renderings, meeting notes, and so on. 

Casualness in the workplace is overall a good move. Keeping a little formality in your business writing is also a good move, and it's just good business.

1 comment:

  1. Communication management is a big deal. I've had to reign consultants who like to forcefully defend their position on COR reviews with wording like - "Can't they read", "Tell them to take a flying leap", "What hole did they did that out of", and a few more stronger words than that. Never swearing, but always on the edge. Occassionally the client has set the tone with that kind of talk at meetings The formal correspondence out of an architect's office should never allow it - no matter the expediency of the situation and how much you may actually be thinking it.

    I often take a ding from others for my e-mails being to long. So there is a balance. I agree that "here you go" not signed, no salutation is a bit short, but I can live with "Mark, Here is the file you requested" because I really do get sick of typing variations of "Please let me know..." all day as well. There should be a single key for that line and random variations!