There are some things that should not be put in an email in the workplace. But there isn't a course in college that tells you what to do. Gen-Yers have grown up using IM and email constantly. This means a whole language of abbreviations that started on the net, then started transferring over to the texting world.


We now have a whole generation of communicating adults that like things short, sweet, and to the point.


Sadly, that often means rapport building goes out the window.


Let us pair this with the alternate view: it is all about the rapport building. For some, this means phone calls and hardly ever sending emails. For others, this can also mean writing emails four pages long, somewhat similar to the letter-writing tradition.


How do we blend these styles to make communication in the workplace more effective? On the same note, how do we blend styles to be sure everyone still gets along at the end of the day?


I'm going to share a little story with you. A Baby Boomer was at work and had to send emails from a program that automatically typed in all caps. She went about her job feeling very good about how communicative she was being. Some time later, a coworker came up and angrily confronted her, "Do you have a problem with me?"


It turns out, emailing in all caps makes it seem like you are yelling at someone. All caps can often be used for emphasis or to indicate an increase in volume (HAHAHA vs. hahaha). While this Baby Boomer is pretty technologically savvy, she didn't realize that someone would read into the font effect in addition to the message she was sending.


Another story: A company had very high security levels and no computers were allowed to have any kind of instant messaging program. A Gen-Yer was tasked to bring together a group of senior leaders to provide input on a project. In order to get this done, the Gen-Yer sent out one-line emails, usually with the burning question ("Where is your section that was due today?"). Senior leaders became quite turned off that someone was speaking to them so tersely.


Without instant messaging, the Gen-Yer thought it would be fine to get these quick answers through email. Since he only needed the answer, he didn't waste time with, "Hello, how are you today? I hope you had a nice weekend. The weather here was awful; those cold fronts do send us for a loop. I was hoping I could follow up on..."


So how can we all play nice?


Much of it is going to depend on the communication culture of your organization. Spending a moment to think about how departments and leaders in the organization correspond with you will get you off to a good start. Here are some things to consider:

-Does your company have a communications policy?

-How often do corporate bodies send memos?

-How are they being delivered? (email, posting on an intranet, etc.)

-Who are the senders and what are their roles?

-What kind of influence do you need to have in your communications?

-Who is your audience? (peers, external clients, senior leaders, etc.)

-Do you already have relationships with these people?

-Would a quick phone call suffice or do you need a paper trail?

 This is just an introduction; we haven’t even gotten into why winky faces in client emails are bad. All groups should consider how they communicate, not forcing Gen-Yers to understand "how it’s always been done." Gen-Yers bring speed and efficiency, and older generations can bring eloquence and savvy. Blending these styles will improve communication skills for everyone.


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  • John Benson

    Blackberry's also throw a whole new wrench into this, because e-mails are then typed like IMs, but can be sent directly to inboxes. One of my former coworkers used to communicate by e-mail from his BB using only the subject line. Effective, but difficult to get used to.

  • Jay Tatum

    I wonder, if ALL CAPS MEANS I'M SHOUTING, what does it mean if the color is other than black? I, too , am one of those Baby Boomers who is reminded regularly what all capital letters means and I generally respond in all caps because I really can't get my mind around someone hearing my emails with his or her eyes (notice I used correct grammar with the subjet verb agreement!). The simple has become so complex not so much because we want or need it to be, but because someone is reading meaning into what we are doing on-line (technically that is known as isogesis - when meaning is drawn from a text it is known as exegesis).
    A couple of thousand years ago when the Hebrew language was being codified and formulated, the use of vowels were not used. Later generations who added to the original texts sought to add vowels to help the words make more sense. We refer to that group of folks as the Masoretes. Later still in the development of other written, western languages, the idea of putting a space between letters and/or words gave new meaning to what was being communicated and eventually, somebody had the great idea to write stuff in chapters and verse. So GLTY (Good Luck To You)! I'm shouting so you can hear me with your eyes, too. YBFE