Recently I heard two statements, from different clients, just a few days apart. If it matters to you how your colleagues perceive your professionalism, I think you’ll find these statements worth reading.
“[He] is so professional. Even in his instant messages, he spells out ‘you’ [as opposed to writing the letter u].”
“Have you seen [this colleague’s] email messages? He writes his work emails like personal texts!”
To illustrate his point, this second client actually showed me an email he had saved from this colleague, and the message was indeed sloppy and silly and far too informal for an email to co-workers.
But what I took away from this encounter was not that this man’s colleague is a bad email writer – it was the fact that my client was so turned off by this style of informal email that it became for him the trait that defined his colleague as unprofessional and unserious. He even kept an example handy, which he was eager to share.
Your colleagues notice.
The point? Your co-workers are paying attention. They notice details such as how much effort you put into your work emails, instant messages and other forms of communication.
In fact, your colleagues often use your style of communication as a way to make determinations about your overall professionalism and even your intelligence.
And if you think about it, this makes perfect sense. What other tools do we have to judge our colleagues, other than how they communicate with us? If I have great ideas and insights but can’t or don’t convey those ideas to my colleagues, how will they know? And if I communicate my insights in a way confuses them or turns them off, what will they remember – the insight itself, or how badly I packaged it?
Write a thoughtful, well-crafted message every time, and your colleagues will notice. They might even begin telling each other how impressed they are with you – as they did with the colleague in my first example.
But if you regularly dash off sloppy, informal emails to colleagues in instances when serious messages are called for, your colleagues will notice that too. Worse, they might form a larger opinion about you as unprofessional, penalizing you for the lack of thought or seriousness you put into communicating with them.
We all write narratives about our co-workers. What are your colleagues’ narratives about you?
During the first conversation I described above, where I overheard a group discussing the co-worker who is so professional that he writes “you” (not “u”) in instant messages, another colleague in the group pointed out that this man is also 100% punctual. “If he says he’ll call you at your desk at 2pm,” this colleague said, “he’s going to call you at 2.”
This is narrative writing, and we all do it. Because this man put thought into crafting professional instant messages, a colleague noticed. That colleague then told other colleagues, and the group reinforced the positive view of their co-worker by thinking of additional ways he showed professionalism, such as by being punctual. When this conversation was over, each member of that group had solidified in their own minds a more positive view of their colleague.
This, I think, is a great lesson about the value of what might seem like a small thing – putting a little more time and effort into your communications with your co-workers.