“Appropriate” Is Not A Dirty Word

This past week I felt desperately inspired to write on the topic of appropriate, professional communication. And if the words “desperately inspired” sound odd to you, I encourage you to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Inhale the beauty of her mystical perspective and revel in her concept that ideas roam the universe in search of human partnership so their existence becomes a universal reality. It’s exactly what happened to me concerning this topic…

Professional communication has taken a major hit over the last five to ten years with email and texting taking over as our primary means of communication. Gone are the days of opening communications with “Dear so-and-so.” Gone are the days of beautiful, formal handwritten thank-you notes (unless you’re my son, who will complain tirelessly to anyone who will listen concerning my insistence he still write them). Gone are the days that, minus spell-check, we genuinely take the time to proof and edit each correspondence to ensure our messages are not only grammatically correct, but are professional and “appropriate” for our intended recipients. We’re all about responding fast. Check it off the list. And in devaluing professional correspondence in this way, we’ve not only watered down our business interactions, we’ve cheapened our personal exchanges as well.

This may sound old-school or antiquated, but in my humble opinion, being respectful, considerate and appropriate concerning how we address our co-workers, clients or business acquaintances in our professional communications is not simply a testament to our professionalism and education, it speaks deeply to how we respect the world around us and everyone in it who is important to us.

I have to assume most of you have seen Inside Out – whether with your kids or as a Friday night Netflix date with your significant other. The movie hits home – and deep – concerning the command center that houses our emotions – joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. All of these emotions conspire to be the best possible guide via, what is commonly known as, our gut-instinct.

We all have amazing gut instincts. You know why? Because those instincts are a marriage of our personal command center and the voices and/or feelings of those who matter most to us, speaking to us on a very subconscious level. The only difference between the people who navigate communications respectfully and professionally and those who don’t is whether they choose to listen and obey the obvious messages the gut (and heart) is sending.

How often in your professional communications – whether in text or email – do you throw in a WTF, LOL, or IDK? What about your use of the sad and/or smiley face? If I, as an executive in a company, uses a sad face to communicate my disappointment when interacting with, say, a 26-year old, what does that do to our level of communication? Am I still perceived as a leader or mentor? Or, have I taken the exchange down a level for someone who is most likely in need of more senior and professional voice? Am I still an authority figure to depend on, or am I now a friend? Because with that shift comes an entirely different communication dynamic. And once that line has been blurred or crossed, unfortunately, there is no going back.

As a society we have taken what was intended for more intimate communication between friends, families and lovers and we’ve dumped them into our daily, professional exchanges. Stealing the intimacy that existed to strengthen communication between partners or friends and minimizing our professional interactions.

Take a read through the last handful of emails/texts you’ve sent to people. Ask yourself, what mixed message did I send by dumbing-down that exchange with a sad face or slang? What relationship might I have just weakened if someone who matters to me were to read the communication? What did I just jeopardize, personally and professionally, by crossing a line of appropriateness – whether intentionally or inadvertently?

So what’s a solution? I recommend this…

Who matters most to you in your personal and professional worlds? A wife or husband, a boss or mentor? Keep them on your shoulder and in your ear when drafting your communications. Use them as your barometer – how would they feel if they read this? Would they be proud of you? Would they commend you? Or would they feel slighted or embarrassed or uncomfortable by the words or emoticons you may have chosen to use with this particular person?

Take the time to care about how you’re communicating with others. There are few things more important in business than how we are initially, and then consistently, perceived by others. Do your best to always be proud of who you are, how you’re representing yourself and what you’re “putting out there” everyday.

And remember, an exchange doesn’t go away when you hit “delete.” Once sent, it’s part of the collective universe and stored in someone’s memory. Always strive to have your communications be something you are proud of and that add to the good of your workplace, your standing and your soul. If you don’t afford your communications the tending and care they deserve, you may someday find yourself in a situation from which there is no return.

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