Don't Do This

May 8, 2015

Gawker recently posted an interesting article about language, and oh, what a language article it was!

Here's a rundown of the article.  A software-engineering fellow is looking for employment, and just like so many people, he has his résumé posted up on a few employment sites:  Monster, in this case.  And as we all know, there are recruiters sifting through résumés and probably shooting off mass mailings to see who will answer.  (That's tacky, by the way.)  A certain recruiter contacted the software guy and pitched a position to him that, geographically speaking, didn't fall within the interests of the software guy.  The software guy responded, and it went downhill from there.  In fact, "LOL, you dick" from the recruiter pretty much indicated the fall of that relationship.


So here's some advice:  Don't do that.  As in don't embarrass yourself the way a certain singer who shall go unnamed does the moment she picks up a microphone.  All it will result in is my making fun of you on Facebook, making me no better than the subjects of this article.

The overlying problem with this e-mail exchange--besides the embarrassing levels of grammar from the recruiter--is the challenge to effective communication that e-mail and other written forms of communication pose.  Hell, it's already challenging enough trying to communicate and understand people in real life. (Ever see an inebriated person doing karaoke?  Yeah, that type of communication and understanding challenge.)  E-mail just adds an extra layer of difficulty.


Why is e-mail so challenging?  It's a quick form of communication that's meant to convey messages as succinctly as possible, though some people use it much more extensively and create elaborate messages in it.  (Please stop.)  The other problem is that it's particularly difficult to communicate nuance in an e-mail or, really, any form of written communication.  There are more, but those two are the nuclear bombs of e-mail communication.


Now consider that paragraph with the much-vaunted communication model:


 This graphic takes me back to the trauma of geometry.


  • Interpreter 1:  This is the person who has something to communicate.  She thinks of the message, encodes it with meaning that she understands and hopes others understand.

  • Message:  The message is sent.  (Let's hope it's not sent via lose-your-mail-every-week, nearly insolvent, ha-ha-you-and-your-overpaid-workers-deserve-it USPS.)

  • Interpreter 2:  This is the person who receives the message.  He goes through the decoding process to gain an understanding of it.

  • Encoding:  If the original message requires a response, Interpreter 2 responds by encoding his own meaning into the response and fires it away.

  • And the process iterates.

Pretty simple, huh?  Yeah, no.  Sure, it's simple to think up your message and inject meaning into it, and it's simple to fire it off without a further thought.  After that is when it gets interesting, because you really can't control a single thing else about that message.  It's now in the control of the other person.  And when he starts to decode the message, all hell can break loose--and often does.  


And if Interpreter 2 misinterprets the message, he will encode his response based on his bad decoding of the initial message.  Interpreter 1 gets the poorly encoded response and gets ready to go to her purse on Interpreter 2 for his foolishness.  Yeah, a big "oh, dear" moment.  You can easily see how situations can derail right quick--and someone can go the way of Tupac.


No one has to go to the ICU or morgue, though.  So let me offer you some tips to save your dignity (and life):

  • Conscientiousness:  Big word that means being mindful of not only what you're writing, but how you're writing and the meaning behind the words.  The adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is complete bull ka-ka.

  • Succinctness:  I'm not even sure that's a word, but my made-up meaning is that you should be succinct, straightforward in your message.  Whatever doesn't need to be said shouldn't be said.

  • Tone:  Understand that it is difficult to control how your intended tone can be received, so be as tone conservative as possible, meaning be as clear as possible about the tone you're using.  What that also means is that sarcasm via e-mail is probably not a best practice.

  • Propriety:  Know your audience so you know how to communicate with them.

  • Pick Up the Damn Phone:  For the love of Abraham, if you think that your message could derail faster than Ke$ha's career, pick up the phone to talk it through.

I didn't discuss spelling errors in e-mail because it's not germane to this posting.  Plus, spelling errors won't mean that you're an arse. It'll just mean that you're illiterate. . ..


Read this blog; post it up on your wall; and treat it as [insert holy book here].  You'll save yourself a lot of grief, and you'll learn to communicate better via e-mail.  Or, at the very least, you will know when to pick up the damn telephone to flesh things out.  Generation Y, I know that sends shivers through your spine, but I promise you won't die if you actually press numbers on your cell phone and, I don't know, hit "Send" to make a call.

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