Have you ever received an answer from a British person for something, and you weren’t quite sure whether it was a positive or negative response? They didn’t say no but somehow you had the feeling that they weren’t saying yes either? Or did you find out that the ‘yes’ wasn’t really a yes – it was only meant to appease you or was used as a way of backing out of a conversation?
I spent many years working in local government in the UK. Sometimes, the job was quite difficult. I often had to ask people to do things that I couldn’t do myself, and I wasn’t their manager. Directly asking for something to be done did not always get an immediate response and I could not expect they would be cooperative. I learnt that when I had something in common with the person, or I found something out about them, that it made the task easier for them to do and that they were, in a way, more helpful.
The status of e-mails, at least in the English language, has evolved over the past 15 years.
I remember e-mails from 15 years ago being issued with text message speak and poor or no punctuation. However, today they are a valid form of communication by many in business – equivalent to a letter. Therefore, this has increased the importance of the salutation at the beginning of an e-mail. What kind of tone do you want your e-mail to have? What is the right tone, and does it depend on who you are writing to?
One of my first office-based jobs was as an Assistant Project Manager.
I was responsible for servicing meetings. I had to give business information in an English e-mail every day. For example, I sent out agendas, minutes, informed clients of future meetings etc.
One time I sent out an e-mail explaining the reason for having a meeting, and, having explained why, then put the important actions at the end. I was told off for doing this – my manager said that no-one would notice this information at the end. I was instructed to clearly put the most important information at the beginning and to keep the e-mail concise and short.
During my last trip to the UK, I hired a car at the airport.
Whilst I was waiting in the car hire showroom, the assistants began to make conversation with me.
They asked me how my flight was, where I was travelling, whether I was on a business journey or meeting family, and so on. They were trying to show friendliness, be positive and put me in a good mood. However, both sides knew that we were not trying to develop a friendship. We were both aware that the interaction was a superficial one. We were being friendly to each other, but we weren’t creating a friendship.