The nature of written and spoken words are quite different:
The spoken word carries the most potent power at the given present moment, allowing for prompt reaction, leading to conversation and thus less room for speculation.The written word instead lives and breathes with interpretation, based on circumstances and different individual perceptions in which there is plenty of room for misunderstandings.
Therefore when working in a global team, possibly with very different cultures involved, it is best to agree on some basic ground rules not just for email but for all your written communication. From own experience I know that the following things definitely helped productivity and team spirit:
- in our teams as a general rule we avoid the use of superlatives, as they often indicate strong emotions which may heighten the existing emotional response of the reader so that they interpret the message content in an overly emotional way.
- we encourage each other to pro-actively start a message with the information that we are having a bad day or similar, so the (emotional) context of the subsequent writing is brought into perspective.
- I think every existing team member now knows that we don’t write in CAPITAL letters unless it’s absolutely necessary to explain a problem, but even then – they would first consider opting for bold, italics or underline font styles instead, as they are normally sufficient to get the message across, right?
- absolutely no swearing: it never does or did anybody or anything any good. Do you really believe that “more better” stuff “got done” because you (as CEO or investor) swore at something or somebody? Chances are that with every time you publicly swear at something or at somebody, you – on a personal level – just lose a little bit of the respect of that team member. This may not impact ones professional standing immediately, but I am sure that it does long term, even though it seems to be a fun hobby for some leaders in the worlds startup community;
- stopping the usage of unnecessary repetitions or irregular use of punctuation marks such as .. or ……. or ???? or ?!??? or !!!!! – what use do they have any way? Everybody interprets them differently! Using exclamation marks, full stops etc. is the historic way to communicate and nothing is wrong with them, but what exactly do overly done repetitions mean? Use a “?” for a question, the question does not become stronger if there are “??????” behind it. Use “…” and not “..” as it conveys a laissez-fair (don’t care) attitude. Using “…….” conveys “this issue is a never never ending story, I could go on and on about it -> ‘you keep failing'”
So as early as possible in the start-ups life make your team aware of these points and discuss it with them. Personal bad habits need not be easily welcomed in professional relations, it’s easy enough to at least once discuss this together → particularly when you’re still a young and dynamic company with few staff. It’s far easier to do at this time than trying to build that into corporate company culture later.To an extent I can understand that as the CEO of a big corporate you may not want to go into these reviews of communication styles personally. But as the Founder of a company, there is no way around this kind of thing and it is better to be prepared rather than to be taken by surprise. This simple matter can affect productivity and progress of your company significantly, it can build good team morale, respect for each other, loyalty and can become part of your companies culture early on.
Needless to say that I’m trying hard to live up to my just posted standards!