It seems to me that mobile SMS, a.k.a. “texting” has had a profound impact on business communications etiquette. In particular, it has changed email, which increasingly seems to fall into the shorter-is-better category.
It’s hard to say whether this is a positive or negative trend, but it certainly creates some cultural friction between business correspondence “traditionalists” who believe in proper greetings, closings and complete sentences and the ones that opt for brevity.
While there’s a case to be made for the efficiency of short emails, there isn’t always one to be made for effectiveness, which I hope the following two examples will illustrate.
TLA galore (sorry, Three Letter Acronyms)
While email is not bound by the length and formatting limitations of mobile text, many correspondents still exhibit a spartan use of words with a gracious use of acronyms and emoticons. For example, I had an email exchange with a guy who simply replied to a meeting request with four words: “somewhere around UES EOD”. I figured out that EOD was End Of Day (I use that acronym myself) but it took me a while to figure out that UES was not the name or acronym of a company or a building, but simply “Upper East Side” (of Manhattan). Effective or efficient it was not.
Long live ADD (I’m not spelling that one out)
Secondly, I’ve found that an email is no longer great at addressing multiple issues. Many email correspondents seem to have adopted a threshold of one, in terms of how many streams of thought that can be expressed in any one correspondence. I find that if asking recipients to address more than one issue, question or deliverable, the reply tends to be a partial answer. I’m learning slowly to ask questions as I would if I was texting: Only ask for one thing at a time, as multiple exchanges seem inevitable. So much for the efficiency of short messages…
Why email is becoming like texting
I think there are a few reasons why we’re seeing this convergence of protocol when it comes to texting and emailing. So, without making the fundamental attribution error (of blaming people rather than looking at the context), I think most people write short emails because they are composing it on their mobile phone.
That said, I know several people who have adopted the “Sent from my Mobile” signoff for their non-mobile email as well, just so that they can save a few keystrokes without coming across as rude. (We blame it on Kevin Rose!).
The difference between short and curt
While I always initiate email correspondence with a stranger with a ‘proper’ business etiquette, I pushed the boundaries on how soon to should skip the formalities the other day. This created an adverse reaction from the recipient of my emails and I understand why. Hopefully this story can be some food for thought.
Here’s what transpired: After my ‘proper’ initial email, the recipient replied with equal poise that she would like to talk, and suggested a time to speak and asked for a number to reach me on.
Here’s where things went awry. I was out of the office when I got this email on my cell phone. I wanted to get back to her quickly to secure the time slot with a quick to-the-point message (as I’ve learned that people’s calendars change by the hour).
My reply read:
4:30pm should work. You may call me on the number in my signature.
Sent from my iPhone
I hoped that hiding behind the “Sent from my iPhone” signoff would mitigate the risk of being perceived as rude, but rather as responsive.
Fortunately, once we got on the phone, the incident turned out to be a great icebreaker and we got to learn more about each other and how we feel about business and business communications (including several of the points I’ve made in this post) as a result of it.
However, think twice before you decide it’s OK send short emails like this yourself. It may be the last email exchange you’ll have with that person.