When we write emails or memos, we might not understand that we are telling people who we really are. Certain characteristics (good and bad) show clearly in our prose. At the most basic level, consider those emails that come across as smug and demanding. We don’t excuse these emails as stylistic writing errors. Rather, we decide the sender is a smug and demanding person.
As an example, I’ll use something I received last week, a real recommendation letter (with names and places changed), breaking up each sentence and analyzing the prose for the character traits revealed:
In the last two years that I have worked for Keys Unlimited, I have had a front row seat to this operation and during this entire time, I have had the privilege of working with and for the Marketing Director, Sen Sational.
I won’t bother analyzing the dodgy ethics of having a subordinate writing a recommendation letter. Let’s instead tear apart the writer’s prose. Clearly, the person has a hard time reigning in his thoughts. I say this because the sentence is cluttered with unnecessary filler words and phrases. Also, the person isn’t an original thinker with his cliché, “front row seat.” The cliché indicates the person is a follower, since he’s watching rather than working aside his subject. The writer contradicts this cliché with his “working with and for” later on. Oh, let’s not forget he repeats himself (I have had, I have had).
Over the course of my adult working life (30 plus years), I have worked for quite an assortment of different “leaders,” but hands down, Sen has proved to be head and shoulders above the rest.
So, since it’s only his adult working life, his years as a paper boy don’t count? Okay, that’s me being snide, but this person clearly likes to exaggerate matters. Consequently, he comes across as insincere. He’d be the guy to whom you’d want to say, “Who cares?” I mean, really, do we care how long he’s been a working adult? Also, he’s redundant. Choose one, buddy. Assortment or different. You don’t get both. And then we get the double-down with two clichés in one clause: “hands down” and “head and shoulders above the rest.” Egads.
Sen has been here from the beginning and has been the driving force behind this highly successful company.
Again, he relies on a cliché: “driving force.” He’s also sort of passive with his use of the adverb “highly.” It’s always the passive sorts who rely on weak adverbs to heighten their point rather than relying on crisp syntax and strong verbs.
In a nutshell, she is Keys Unlimited.
Thank you for yet another cliché. When someone writes a short sentence and tells you it’s a short sentence by adding a phrase like “in a nutshell,” you know you have someone who will struggle to communicate efficiently. They won’t tell you the simplest things in the simplest ways. Also, we have another indication of an exaggerator. Exaggerators avoid facts. Exaggerators dismiss data and hide behind hyperbole.
She is passionate about the program, passionate about her staff and their wellbeing and success, and most importantly, passionate about the people we have the privilege of serving, the Keys Unlimited customers.
I doubt anyone’s as “passionate” as the guy writing this letter. When you repeatedly use a describer, it generally means you value this characteristic because you think you have this characteristic. This passionate guy has again shown his need for unnecessary words, as in “and their” when he could have just used an apostrophe after “staff.” This again shows a lack of efficiency.
With very few exceptions, she knows our customers by name and will frequently interact with them and encourage them whenever she might encounter them at our store or out in the field.
Again, this is wordy and confusing, which suggests that the writer is confused. Why bother with “very few exceptions”? And what does he mean by “the field”? For all we know, it’s an actual cornfield next to the store.
Sen has done a masterful job of maintaining and managing the fast pace of this store to help guide her staff to maintain high levels of success.
The writer likes the letter “m.” Masterful. Maintaining. Managing. You might have noticed that specific examples are avoided, which suggests the writer is an abstract person out of touch with reality.
Meanwhile, she diligently focuses on the well-being of her staff with constant communication and guidance, striving to create an environment that is both highly productive and yet pleasant and friendly at the same time.
Throughout the rambling letter (suggesting an unfocused character), we are lambasted with filler words that serve to postpone a redundant and hyperbolic anthem. Notice the use of “both” and “at the same time.”
Therefore, I highly recommend and vouch for Sen Sational to work at your company.
With the schoolhouse use of “therefore” to conclude this letter, it suggests someone who is stuck in yesteryear. And do I need to say more about the way the writer likes to say things twice when once will do? Recommend and vouch. This suggests an indecisive person who cannot make up his mind on something as simple as diction.
Okay, that was rough, I know. I dare you to comb through your own writing. What does it say about you? My own writing probably revealed that I’m a snarky blogger with an English degree. If I break down my other writing, I’m sure I’ll find other unappealing traits but hopefully some appealing ones, too. It’s interesting that we business folk think it’s all about the content of our writing when it’s also about the way we write.
What’s unfortunate is that the writer of the example above might not have any of these undesirable characteristics. It might be that he simply doesn’t know how to write, which underscores my point that even those in business need to write well.