Maintaining Your Human Identity in a Cyber Career
It was just the other day when I submitted a writing assignment. After saving my final draft and sending it off to my boss, I took a deep breath. It was another success for a regular gig, and I had managed to get it done before deadline—as always.
But just when I thought everything was fine, a return email from my boss with a replied subject line appeared in my inbox. Expecting him to confirm he received the project, I unknowingly opened up the email to find a statement that set me off. After telling me there was an error in the title, he wrote, “Come on!”
Now, I know what “Come on!” feels like when you’re being cheered on or motivated. This was not that kind of two-word phrase. It was a snap. A sarcastic brush off that shocked me. First, I had made a mistake, which is always frustrating to cope with because I want every client to be satisfied with my work. But more so, it was how my boss said it that upset me most. It was like he was spitting out nasty comments to someone who didn’t matter, and he could say it because we weren’t face to face.
Who does he think he is, I asked myself. What’s so hard about saying, “There’s an error on the title. Please fix it and return.”
This is when it hit me, how important cyber manners are. And while I let my boss off the hook because he’s friendly most of the time via email (we’re on opposite sides of the country and have never met), it still got me to thinking about how vital it is to maintain your identity as a human as you interact with others via the Internet. Whether or not it was a disciplinary action, the fact that he did it at all without more of an explanation—or a polite tone—made my mind take it in the worst way at first. It was if I was back in an office working 9 to 5 when my boss would brashly criticized me in a few accusatory statements and walk away before we could discuss it. That’s entirely why I started working from home, mostly as my own boss. Rarely do clients express dissatisfaction, and when they do, they’ve usually always guided me towards completing the project to their taste. Not this guy. It was just two little words that had me baffled. For a second, I was afraid I was being dismissed—literally.
So, what’s the lesson learned? Whether you’re the boss or not, there are easy ways to make sure you keep a humanistic aura when you craft an email to ensure that you don’t come off as an untouchable. And it doesn’t include emoticons
Choose Your Words. You know how things can get taken out of context over email. Make sure to convey if you are pleased about something, or even displeased. Leaving someone with a few words—“Whatever.” or the alleged “Come on!”—leaves someone wondering if they did something wrong. Be articulate, and explain what you have to say. In my boss’s case, he didn’t need to discipline me over email in two words. And if he felt the need to correct me, he should have explained the error and reminded me to be careful with my assignments. Short phrases and one-word replies can appear snide and rude—like you’re talking to something, not someone, one who doesn’t matter. When it comes to business, clients need to feel special and that they can talk to you even over the impersonal form of communication known as email.
Use a Name. Who knows who you’re addressing when you start off an email with the first word of a sentence. A greeting will help make it more personal. In addition, use a salutation and sign your name, even just your first name if you’re comfortable enough with a client or supervisor.
Enable Contact. It’s very important that someone can contact you in a way other than email. So have your phone number in a signature to your message. While some people don’t agree with releasing this information, if you’re in business, you can’t hide behind a computer. Giving business associates your phone number shows that they can reach you should they wish to talk.
Gab a Little. You shouldn’t be recapping your weekend, but it’s never bad to tell someone you hope they had a nice time on their vacation after you ramble on in a message about business. I find this often leads to more personalized email, and a strong business relationship. While you may not want to get too carried away talking about personal things over email with a client or boss, I think it’s okay to get to know a supervisor or customer. In addition, it’s okay to be conversational, but if you start to include slang or—dare I say it—acronyms like OMG, BFF or IDK, that’s really pushing it, and can make you look unprofessional, too. Save it to talk to friends, or your kids.
It’s a harsh world out there. And as freelancers now knowing many of the people we interact with in person, it’s even more important to portray to your clients and bosses that you’re human. Since you use email a lot, you may as well learn how to use it to your benefit. It doesn’t have to be a cold, impersonal form of communication. But boy, it can be!
After all, all of us make typos. There just won’t be any in this article…I hope.
Kristen Fischer is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. Her first book, Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs is available at www.creativelyselfemployed.com