Professionalism in Communication – Don’t Be an Uncle Melvin

Posted by on Mar 20, 2014 in Business Writing | 1 comment

Professionalism in Communication – Don’t Be an Uncle Melvin

Back in middle school, a few friends and I made up a character named Uncle Melvin. Over the years, he’s sort of become this odd amalgam of bumbling male characteristics. I picture him with a fantastic shop-teacher-style comb over, big brown 70’s glasses, a bright Hawaiian shirt and khakis. He’s the type of guy who’d occasionally wear a beanie and chat your ear off about the hovercraft he’ll never actually get around to building. If you see a shattered jar of mayonnaise on the ground somewhere, it’s a good bet that Uncle Melvin did it. Consequently, many of the emails I’ll send my buddies end like this…

All right, man, let me know,

Uncle Melvin

And they chuckle because they know it’s me and not actually Uncle Melvin. The real (made-up) Uncle Melvin would’ve spent most of the email complaining about the crackers in his beard and railing against Obamacare. So they know it’s just me pretending.

Fortuitously for the transition I was hoping to make here, while I was in the middle of writing the previous paragraph, a business client of mine called. I’m currently helping her put together a brochure for her linen rental business so I just spent the last ten minutes firing a few emails back and forth to the design company she’s using. And wouldn’t you know it, Uncle Melvin decided to sit those emails out.

Now many of you might be saying, “Thanks Captain Obvious. Sign your own name at the end of a professional email. Got it. Groundbreaking information, buddy.”

And while something that dramatic might truly be obvious, what isn’t so easy to discern is at what point your professionalism begins to slip.

As a freelance writer, I’m constantly sending emails back and forth to various clients. Some of them I’ve gotten to know very well over the years. It would be very easy for me to respond to them with something like this…

John,

Yeah, bud. Give me a minute and I’ll get to it. What’s that sonuvabitch want changed now? Ha. Nah, I’m kidding. Send me the changes and I’ll get ‘em done as soon as I’m done dropping the Browns off at the Super Bowl. Been holding it in a while.

Uncle Melvin

No, Uncle Melvin, no! Totally unprofessional! Never talk about crapping OR the actual Browns in a professional email. Have you followed the Browns front office situation lately? Just admitting you know that franchise exists makes you seem like an amateur.

And while that was an extreme case that you’re probably laughing at, there are a lot of freelancers and small business owners who make that mistake on a regular basis. They forget to make a distinction between business communication and personal communication. Take this next one for example. It’s not as extreme as my previous example, but in many ways, just as bad.

John,

Thx. I’ll get 2 those as soon as I get a sec. Dave being meticulous again? LOL.

TTYL,

Uncle Melvin

Yeah, see, not as hard as you thought to slip from professional to wildly business inappropriate. Usually all it takes is a deadline, a little stress, and the assumption that you’re going to somehow put the three seconds you saved by abbreviating everything to REALLY GOOD USE.

Oh, crap, you sneezed. Well, there goes all that time you got back.

And I can see some millennial just out of college saying, “Hey old man, that’s how we communicate now. Everyone understands. I don’t see what the big deal is. You sure put the GRANDPA in GRANDPA HANK. Go put on a flannel and listen to your old NIRVANA and SOUNDGARDEN cassettes you ancient half-dead curmudgeon.”

Well that all might be true, but the big deal is that your clients aren’t the drunk girl whose digits you scored at the bar last night, bro. They’re probably not “DTF cause YOLO!” Fair or not, what you’re subconsciously showing them is laziness and a lack of intellect. If you were giving your money to someone, who would you want to communicate with?

This guy?

John,

BTW, I can’t find that attachment u sent. Can u shoot it to me again? Thx.

Or this guy?

John,

When you have a moment, can you send me the mock-up for the brochure again? I just want to make sure I have the latest copy so as I’m not working from a previous version.

Thanks so much,

Maybe you’d prefer the first one. That’s a fine decision. Have fun sleeping on that futon until you’re 45. But the second one is obviously much, much better.

With that said, here are my top three rules for writing professional emails.

1) It isn’t a text or a tweet. No stupid abbreviations for things you could easily type out. Good rule of thumb – if it’s an abbreviation that could easily fit into a middle school gigglefest, it probably doesn’t belong in that email you’re sending to the marketing director of a Fortune 500 company.

2) Take a second to proofread. We’ve all been there. We have sixteen things to do in the next hour and an email comes in that you figure you can just breeze through and send out in about fifteen seconds. One more thing crossed off the list. And then you realize you misspelled the recipient’s name Pual or Lidna. And now they know for certain that you dedicated as little time as possible to their issue and moved on to something else. So seriously, before you hit send, just take a deep breath and read it. Don’t scan it. Don’t breeze through it. Actually read it. You’ll be amazed at how much trouble that thirty seconds ends up saving you down the line. (And my god, if you’re a freelance writer, remember that clients are judging you on the quality of your work. If you misspell something in an email or write something that doesn’t make sense in your initial communication, how likely are they to hire you? I mean, how safe are you going to feel if you see your mechanic stranded on the side of the road in their own personal vehicle?)

3) Even if it’s a friend or acquaintance, work emails are for work. Talk about beers on Friday somewhere else. Because you never know, your friend’s boss might be standing behind them when your email pops up. You don’t want to accidentally get them in trouble. Also, people often need to forward business emails to other departments. One forward and next thing you know, Joanne in accounting knows all about your St. Patrick’s Day plans to get WASTED AS A MONTH OLD GALLON OF MILK, BABY!

Anyway, those are some tips to keep your writing professional. And if none of the other arguments sway you, just remember that a few extra seconds of mental effort can make you A LOT MORE MONEY.

Or as the teenagers like to say, AFESOMECMYALM$$$$$$$$$$!

L O flippin’ L,

Uncle Melvin

photo credit: byronv2 via photopin cc

One Comment

  1. Grandpa, I’m proud to be an even older geezer than you, and I think Uncle Melvin lives down the road from me, but if folks think sloppy acronyms are useful they should get jobs with the Acronym Hall of Fame. It is usually called the United States government.One of the few condensations of an elaborate concept that I’ve ever read is the author John McPhee’s comment about the truth of the entire continental drift theory. “The rocks at the top of the Himalayas are composed of marine sediments.” He makes a stunning point and actually uses entire words. On top of that he only uses 61 characters including, OMG, actual punctuation and capital letters. Twitter me that Uncle Melvin!

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