Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I appreciate direct, no-BS people.
In my ideal world, we would all be honest, perhaps to a fault (see: The Invention of Lying). We would, from a young age, learn to communicate and be communicated to in earnest, and accept the hard facts without always having them couched in a compliment sandwich.*
This preference toward straight-shooting Ron Swanson types is why I don’t play well with gaggles of catty people or fit into highly politicized workplaces. I like to know where I stand.
That isn’t the world we live in, though, so we all have to adapt to some degree, myself included.
Unfortunately for my communication idealism, I find that people often shield themselves from honest dialogue with a protective shell of some kind, be it high-horse snobbery, fake sweetness, holier-than-thouness, judgey mcjudgment, or the like.
I struggle to connect with people who hide like that, because our interactions aren’t based in reality, but instead on some surface-level platform of curated presentation.
So, I opt to surround myself with people who communicate — but not necessarily think — like me. Genuine, albeit sometimes rough around the edges folks. People who are willing to risk moments of awkwardness, discomfort, disagreement, or even misunderstanding.
Respectful? Yes. Filtered? Not so much.
This weeding out of the people in my life generally works well for my day-to-day interactions.
*Note — Wanting people to be more authentic does not equal a license to offend or demean people. It also isn’t a call for the abandonment of political correctness, but that’s a post for another day.
You may be able to imagine, then, my dismay upon learning that much of my professional life would be spent writing emails (built-in filter) to faceless people (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain) I’ve never met before (what percent chance are they a robot?) about important matters, in which wording is key, and presentation matters.
Phrasing, typos, and word choice had more communicative power than I ever knew, and doing it wrong could cause disastrous professional consequences.
Indeed, from the time I was told my drunken college Facebook photos would destroy any hopes of a professional future, to my current status as a not-so-new-to-the-game-but-also-still-figuring-stuff-out young professional online, I have feared that one wrong virtual step, and there go my hopes and dreams.
It’s a real bummer, ‘cause I very much like Gina: Unfiltered. She gets lots of laughs from her friend group, even if they think her “that’s what she said” / puntastic jokes can be a smidge cringey at times, or her rage, and subsequent diatribes about slow walkers, are a little over the top.
Nowhere has said fear manifested itself more prominently than in my inbox — a nightmarish lineup of people who might not understand my sometimes nonsensical sense of humor, bone-dry sarcasm, or temporary yet temperamental attitude.
I can’t employ my usual tactics of just being myself, and seeing what happens. Well, at least, not if I want to hold a job.
Let’s paint a more vivid picture with just a few of the things I wish I could say, but don’t include:
To name a few.
So, I sometimes wonder if I’m sacrificing a bit of my humanity when I slink into Gmail prim-and-proper politeness.
Am I, and my virtual persona, becoming something they aren’t, all for the sake of professionalism?
And if everyone else is doing the same thing, who the fuck are these people, anyway? What is the world coming to?
Philosophical quandaries be damned, I must bumble forward. And bumble I do.
For me, regularly writing emails to professional, fancy people is an exercise in controlling urges to respond with unfunny witticisms, seemingly pertinent memes, or shouty capitals, depending on the occasion; it’s an ongoing practice of making sure the message is Goldilocks approved — or typed juuuust right — with the appropriate number of emojis and exclamation points to ensure no one’s fragile egos or feelings are damaged in the process.
This goes double if I’m mad or frustrated. Sugar-coating takes so much time and energy, but with a female name and picture heading all my online profiles, I have a social obligation to be extra nice, lest I incur the newest stereotypes about feminazism or the war on men for daring to be unpleasant.
As you can imagine, Gmail and I have quite the adversarial relationship.
For initial emails to new people, I spend hours crafting, deleting, editing, and starting over. Writing an email and coming back to it, sometimes a few times, depending on the recipient.
Tweak, tweak, tweak, and I still wonder if it sounds okay, asking myself a million questions in a social norms checklist that never seems to end.
What’s a nicer way to say this? Am I being too harsh? How many smiley faces are too much?
Can I just skip “I hope this email finds you well,” because my God, I hope anyone who is not well would not be opening up and answering emails in the first place?
Do I need to say who I am or does my email signature serve as “caller id” enough?
Are people still saying “Sincerely”? How did “Cheers” even get into the mix of signoffs? Are we having a drink together?
It is no small wonder I fell to my knees in joy upon learning of the “undo send” option — my savior in the instance of a true misstep.
Despite these diligent attempts to adhere to professional email practices, sometimes I wonder what would happen if I stopped worrying so damn much, and just typed what made sense to me, even if it challenged 2017’s email norms.
Maybe I’d write one-liner messages, skip the greeting, and opt not to redundantly repeat my name. I’d use ellipses, sentence fragments, and way too many parenthetical phrases (aren’t they fun, though?). Maybe I’d even throw in amusing photos or gifs in lieu of words.
Or would there be any chance that people would …
Sure, I’m curious about the answers, but my aforementioned fear has had me lingering over the “send” key for far too long, before I eventually sigh and file things away under the “not appropriate” inbox tab.
À la the President Obama anger translator, what might happen if we stopped agonizing over trivialities and let our personalities fly free?
Despite the fast-moving nature of technology, I have conceded that the whole world is not going to change the way they send (me) email overnight. But in the interest of increased honesty, I’ll admit that I really wish it would.
For those that feel the same way I do about the overly curated and ultimately time-wasting nature of email communication today, I propose a few changes based, honestly, on things that annoy me:
Do you really, honestly, truly care whether people say Good Morning / Good Afternoon / Hello / Hey / Hi / Dear / Yo Wassup before they write your name in an email? Does it really grind your gears that much if someone accidentally uses Ms. rather than Mrs., or fails to notice the fancy letters after your name, which clearly indicate you should be called by “Doctor”?
Conversely, do they need to sign off with some cheesy closing? Someone signed an email to me the other day with “Handshake, Name.” Ugh.
When I see these things, I cringe — it’s like we’re taking the worst parts of olden-day letters sent by Pony Express and force-feeding them to one another via a communication that’s at least a little faster, depending on your internet speed.
I tend to think that people care about proper greetings and closings, not because of respect, but out of some weird insistence on self-important validation. Hate to break it to you, but unless you are Iggy Azalea, you ain’t that fancy.
Part of this must be growing pains, right?
Email as the primary form of professional communication is still relatively new in some respects, so we aren’t quite ready to let go of old conventions in that area yet, which is why I also stick a stamp on each email sent, just to make sure it gets there.
Chances are, convoluted dog-ate-my-homework stories about why something didn’t come in on time or long-winded apologies are annoying at best, and most people don’t really need or want to read them.
These novella-worthy emails, I suppose, are meant to replace real-life conversations where you hem and haw over why something didn’t get done, hoping for a little sympathy. In the absence of such dialogue, you kind of Dear Abby your way through an emoji-tear-stained apology of the crazy thing that took place over the weekend.
But you know it and I know it — that whole woe-is-me story is for you, not anyone else. Barring an actual emergency, the reason for incomplete assignments is almost always that life or laziness got in the way. Period.
Spare the details, just deliver the stuff, and move along.
A lot of the time, one-liner responses to let someone know you’ve seen something and are looking into it, or that you’ve gotten the email, are simply enough. It looks like Gmail for iOS got the message on this one.
It’s kind of similar to why I used to get annoyed at my old Spanish teacher, who always made us answer in complete sentences, when actually a “sí” or “no” would have sufficed. (Señor Bear, Spanish speakers don’t always speak so verbosely; I’ve got the life experience to prove it now.)
We’ve gotten so used to someone sending us a letter and by golly, we have to send a letter back. Even though, hell, a lot of times, a “k” would suffice, we’ve essentially turned that poor, efficient letter into the pariah of online communication.
If everyone could get on board with number three, this one could be eliminated altogether.
Have you ever sent an email, only to afterward cock your head to the side, read it in another tone, and wonder if it could be misinterpreted badly?
If we could all just agree to assume that people meant the innocent, not passive-aggressive version of what they wrote, and take things at face value, we could all write much shorter emails. So much time could be saved if we didn’t have to pad emails with loads of filler words to couch everything in the soft pillows of overniceness.
For God’s sake, do we live in the catty, semi-fictional world of Mean Girls, where we’re just waiting for a colleague to slip up so we can cry sabotage?
Please, thank you, and a well-placed emoji here and there should be enough.
Seriously, with the advent of Slack and other professional instant messaging programs available for companies, you should be able to cut down your time clunking through slow-moving, unproductive email conversations by having more of your interactions through faster, digital chats that are actual conversations.
As John McWhorter posits in his TED Talk about texting, we’ve entered a new era of digital communication he calls “fingered speech,” wherein we actually shouldn’t care about everything being proper (spelling, punctuation, etc.) when we’re talking online. Because as he suggests, do you think about those things when you’re talking out loud?
Switching to an instant messenger-style chat service over traditional email can help you break free from the rule-soaked hellscape that is outdated, yet somehow contemporary, email norms.
Since I so value honesty, let me hit you with a confession: I began writing this post with fingers poised to bring hot flaming judgment down on people who annoy me over email.
I can be a little cynical, but I’m working on it, I promise.
But the more I wrote, the more I realized that all my fiery rage doesn’t really derive from the people themselves (okay, most of the time), but instead the senseless norms and rules we’ve created in this evolving technological form of communication.
In constantly debating email word choice in the hopes of getting things perfect, are we losing the message in the means? Are we distancing ourselves further and further from honest back-and-forth, and so, also from each other?
We have covered our thoughts and feelings with so many layers of niceties that we’re often just wasting our time picking appropriate greetings rather than actually saying what we need to say. The fear of judgment over a misspelled word or poorly chosen phrase tarnishing professional reputations is too exhausting to be sustainable.
I propose we stop building identity facades that make us feel important and fancy and just talk to each other.
Call me old-fashioned, but I want to retain some authentic humanity by cutting out clutter where it ultimately serves no purpose rather than waste our time coloring our interactions with some false sense of civility.
Let’s all get on board with an email overhaul — spending a lot less time beating our heads on the keyboards over silly email blunders, and more time communicating in a real way. Or at least that’s what I’d rather be doing.
Straight talk, no BS.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Gina Edwards is an unapologetically snarky blogger with a love of parentheses (but who isn't?) and beer with funny names. She's currently be-bopping around Santiago, Chile on her bike, teaching her native language to fancy people. Her skills include making hilarious puns, no-bake cookies, and mountains out of molehills.