Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What up, dogg? Losing the attitude in speech and writing, Part 2

Email is an easy form of communication, but that ease is a double edged sword.  Simple, one-button functions like Reply, Reply All, and Forward makes it so easy to exchanges ideas and responses with one another and keep everyone on the same page.  Each of those buttons makes these discussion easy, but they can bite you.  It's easy to see how Reply can get you in trouble.  Anytime you get an email, you have to read it and take a breath before you respond.  Even the simplest statement or request can have big repercussions, so take a moment before responding.  Take two or three moments when you get an email that sounds obnoxious or rude or seems to be asking something that you're not qualified to answer.  This is when it's especially important to forward the email to your project manager (if they weren't copied already) and ask him or her what the right course of action is.  Reply All can be a problem when you just meant to email one person.  That's usually a problem when your response was meant as a private joke to one person and suddenly everyone's wondering where the profanity or snark is coming from.  Guess who looks unprofessional?

Forward gets you in trouble not because of you forwarding something on but by someone else forwarding your email to others.  Any email you send can be forwarded on to anyone, and you should write them with that possibility in mind.  The reason people love Forward is that the recepient can send information to others without having to do a lot of typing or translation.  Back in the day, exchanging and sharing information with others was a little more arduous.  For example, with phone calls, you either had to call other people and tell them what the first person said on the phone, or you had to type up a phone memo and fax it to everyone.  Either way, it was easy to make a mistake and either mis-hear, mis-remember, or mis-translate what someone else said.  Email makes it easy to ask a question, get an answer, and then distribute that answer to all parties without losing anything in translation--that's the beauty of Forward.  The ugly side of Forward, of course, is when someone emails something unprofessional--profanity-laced, sarcastic, accusatory, whatever--to other parties, especially to those about whom the email was writted.  Yikes.  Guess who looks really unprofessional?

Every email you send is a written (albeit electronic) document that could be used against you.  Every email you send from your office email account belongs to your company, not you.  That means that your company has the right to search your email at any time, and every email you send can be used in court.  While helping with a court case about a year ago, I had to do dig through some old files from a project I worked on when I first started at my job.  I saw some faxes and emails I sent when I was only a year out of college, and I was embarassed.  I'm sure the contractor to whom I was writing found my casual, sometimes silly messages amusing, but I shuddered at the thought of any of these documents being reviewed by a jury.  What would they think as they read these documents, something like What kind of architecture firm would allow such teenage behavior out of their employees?  Where they supervising her?  How shoddy!  Would the informal, sarcastic nature of my communiques hurt us in a court of law?  Again, yikes.

Informal speech such as dude, likeyo, holla, y'know, stuff, and whatever can be misinterpreted in emails, and they can be just as bad in spoken interactions.  Every filler word in a spoken language (such as like and y'know) trips up a listener and postpones the point of a sentence.  This is the opposite goal of workplace communication.  People have things to do and places to be, so the clearer your sentences are, the better.  Workplace informality may put employees at ease, but you should never let your guard down.  Avoid filler words and profanity (even if your boss uses it constantly), and think through your statements so that when you speak them aloud they come out clearly and as quickly as possible.  Your boss, consultants, and coworkers will thank you.

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