Being curt doesn’t make you businesslike

two businessmen in officeI’m noticing a trend lately where people respond to e-mails with an abrupt, terse tone.

No greeting. No “please” and “thank you.” Just a curt, one-sentence response, with a sprinkling of condescension.

I imagine they’re trying to sound confident and authoritative. After all, real professionals don’t waste time with pleasantries or kindness. Real professionals are tough and domineering, and they command respect with their aloof detachment and emotionless demeanor.

But if goal is to sound cool and confident, I’d like to remind these people that they’re failing spectacularly.

Instead, they’re just proving themselves to be clueless jerks with no skills to back up the swagger.

In fact, there’s a direct correlation between a person’s curtness and their incompetence.

The more curt the e-mail, the more incompetent the worker. It’s a rule.

I’d also like to remind these people that real competence stems from patience and understanding and putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

True professionalism comes from listening to the needs of others and responding to the best of your ability.

Genuine respect is earned by appreciating others and recognizing their contributions.

Humor and warmth go a long way in cultivating relationships and building trust. A person who can laugh projects much more poise and confidence than a sleaze-ball who tries to control others through fear and intimidation.

Most people want to be perceived as competent and able. It’s understandable. And our professional correspondence speaks volumes about our personality and the image we’re trying to project — even more so than the way we dress.

But please don’t mistake aloofness for ability. Don’t confuse curtness for competence.

No matter how stiff your upper lip, being a prick will never make you a professional.

So let’s cut it out with the abrupt, terse e-mails, OK? Si “hi” in your greeting. Tell someone you “hope they’re doing well.” Respond with a “thank-you” when they fulfill your request.

After all, isn’t common human decency worth a slightly cluttered inbox? If someone doesn’t appreciate a “thank-you” e-mail, then they always can delete it.

I’ll never subscribe to the notion that civility and decorum have to be sacrificed for the sake of doing business.

Skill and proficiency may define a professional, but it’s kindness and compassion that constitute the soul.

12 comments on “Being curt doesn’t make you businesslike

  1. This is so true! All the senior management where I work do this! It’s so inefficient and they end up sending multiple rude and frankly meaningless emails, when taking a bit more time to construct a polite and informative initial email would’ve have saved them so much time…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m always amazed by the people who think curtness demonstrates authority.

      It doesn’t. It just demonstrates rudeness.

      Like you said, one polite, informative e-mail gets the point across so much better than several rude, terse e-mails that say nothing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I deliberate ad nauseum the words, tone and positioning for even for the simplest emails, and it annoys me when the reply is terse and written without much thought. Whether email is for business or personal use, it is not the appropriate platform for high emotion or criticism. Email is a good vehicle for exchanging information. Beyond that, it can become a cowardly form of abuse or venting, or a lazy form of delegation. Email-writing skill is highly underrated, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m like you, Gail — I deliberate over every word in my e-mails. I’ll write and rewrite, agonizing over all the ways I could be perceived. Do I sound too pushy? Too timid? Am I conveying my thoughts with poise, or am I only inflating my own ego?

      There’s not enough emphasis placed on good writing in the modern workplace — especially in e-mails. It’s always amazing how many hurt feelings and miscommunications result from a poorly crafted e-mail. It’s definitely an underrated skill.


      • I once wrote an article on writing effective emails and contributed it for my company’s newsletter. They published it, but I didn’t get any feedback. I think people are simply not interested in becoming better writers unless writing is what they love to do. Corporate texting, like Skype for Business, is the new form of business communication. Those can be harsh too – with emoticons.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s interesting that you didn’t get any feedback, but it does seem to prove that people aren’t interested in improving their writing unless they’re already writers. I’ve worked for companies that offer online business-writing classes, but nobody ever takes them unless their boss makes them — and even then, the class seems to have no effect. Effective communication is an important business skill, but unfortunately, most people don’t seem to take it seriously. They don’t realize how one poorly worded e-mail can besmirch their reputation and credibility.

        But try sending out a company-wide e-mail that says “Do to unforeseen circumstances…” and then listen to all the snickers that erupt among the staff. Mistakes like that, even minuscule ones, are often hard to live down.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have often suspected upper management types all get their raises based on how few words they articulate in their e-mail. The shorter the message the better it apparently looks to the owners and/or president. A true leader allegedly doles out as few words as possible. It seems like the goal is to always construct the shortest e-mails possible even if the message isn’t clear or the reasoning isn’t provided. I’m all for effective communication but I think part of that is to address your audience like they are human beings and not machines.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree entirely. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but too many corporate e-mails mistake vagueness for leadership. I’m always for brevity (though some of my blog posts might suggest otherwise), but when it comes to expressing thoughts in e-mails — and particularly gratitude — a few more words never hurt.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a message that needs to be conveyed throughout the culture. The assumption that those that are in power are always right is wrong. People think being tough is a good way to motivate people, but they may be motivated to quit or gum up the corporate cogs. Getting power and money at all cost seem to be the cultural zeitgeist in America.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. People respond much more positively to kindness and humility than they do to rigid authority. I guess some leaders are afraid they might appear weak, but in my eyes, they’re actually the strongest. I’m lucky to know a few, and they’ve earned my respect for being able to lead with poise.


  5. I agree with all this, but i have been guilty on occasion – if I’m facing 500 emails to answer and I need to cook supper in an hour, they may get shorter and shorter, but I do my best 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure your e-mails are nice, and that you have nothing to feel guilty about. It’s really more the tone than the length. I can tell when somebody’s being brief because they’re truly busy, and when they’re being curt because they’re trying to sound above it all. It’s a gift. 😀


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