Did you get ever get an email that makes you feel like the other person forgot you were human?
I have… and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve sent those emails as well. Especially at the beginning of my career. I was terrible at communicating professionally over email. But in-person discussions were easy.
Face-to-face, it was easy for me to be compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and remain professional… but over email, I forgot that there was a human on the other side of the message. A human with emotions, baggage, and context. The very thing that gives them their “humanness”.
When communicating digitally, it’s effortless to become impersonal in your communication style. But “easy” can often be harmful.
So what is impersonal communication?
Impersonal communication is whenever you are direct, concise, and short, to the point of brashness. It’s when you forget to think about the humanness of the person on the other side of the message. And it can be disastrous. Especially if that person if the communication surrounds a disagreement, and you are trying to do it using text formats. It’s much easier to have those conversations voice to voice.
But impersonal communication is valuable for one-way communications
Memos, corporate briefs, and direct instructions are often delivered in an impersonal style. They allow you to get your point across quickly and decrease the amount of time spent writing (and reading) a message.
Depending on the audience of your message, this can be really helpful. For example, if you are communicating with senior-level executives, impersonal and direct communication is the best way to go. They don’t need the extra frills and information and they would rather have it straight to the point.
A note on business text messages
Another style of impersonal communication is text messages, which have become a part of the business landscape over the last 10 years. It’s very common for our teams to text (or IM) each other instead of sending an email about a quick question or a topic. It’s best to stay away from text messages unless it’s a personal message to a colleague or a peer because it’s too easy to cut out important context. This can result in misinformation, disagreement, and offence. If it’s a business-related communication email, or phone call work best.
The downfalls of impersonal communication
If you’re communicating with a client, colleague, peer, direct manager, or team, you want to make sure that your communication has some personal elements to it. You can come across that you’re very cold if all of your messages are straight to the point. Great business communications will recognize the person on the other side of the email, as well as recognize your personality.
Impersonal communication offends easily
Talking as if you are a robot is disingenuous. And when spoken to as if you are a robot, you are not likely to be interested in the topic being discussed. You can very easily see how uncomfortable that interaction can be. And if you’re trying to build a relationship, build rapport, develop trust, or collaborate impersonal communication is a really impractical way to do it.
Add personality to soften your messages
Your interactions need to be embedded with your personality, and they need to contain a personal touch that helps you show the other person that you value them… whether that’s over the phone or over email.
3 Tips to soften your impersonal emails
- Take notes about your previous interactions with your people and draw on those as inspiration. Let the notes remind you of who the receiver is/what they care about. Then show them that you care about them by demonstrating your knowledge of who they are.
- Find common ground with the people that you are interacting with. Common ground can be anything from favourite food, place to visit, culture, arts, sports, the list is endless. The more you find common ground, the more you can reference that common ground at the beginning of your interactions to draw a bond between the two of you.
- Use your personality in your writing style. If you say “y’all” when you were speaking, include “y’all” in your emails. If you make jokes or are expressive/exaggerated then be that person in your emails. But no matter what, make sure your point rings through to the reader.
I didn’t know when to be personal or impersonal at the beginning of my career
While there is a “right” time for both personal and impersonal communication styles it’s important to know when to use each. Draw on your experiences with the receiver to inform your style decision.
I made lots of mistakes at the beginning of my career. I needed to learn from my mistakes of being a little bit too brisk and impersonal in my messages. I had to learn that my emails were helping me make enemies, but friends were the ones who would help me be successful. By learning that, I learned when and how to use those communication styles to my benefit and it made the world a difference.
Sometimes the answer is to not send an email at all
Before you write your next email consider if it might be better as a phone call. If it needs to be a personal communication, pick up the phone and make the call. If you need to write an email, think about how you want the message to be received, and use the 3 tips to build relationships through your messages.
Strong professional communication builds strong professional relationships. And strong professional relationships will support you in growing a powerful career.