5 ways to prevent your casual from showing

I was so tempted to leave the default message, “Sent from my iPhone.” As sick as it sounds, I actually feel privileged to have spent my money for this sweet gem. When my 82 year old mother asked me what it does, all I could do was smile, stroke my phone and say “everything.”

So, it pained me  – pained me! – to go to the settings setting to delete their message. I want everyone to know how cool I am. I want them to know that I’ve been to the mountain.

But I can’t. I can’t because I teach that email has very little to do with the writer and everything to do with the reader. I say that to the recipient, how we send our message is meaningless. All they want is the information they want and that doesn’t include a promo for the iPhone or whatever. Oh, I know. We mistakenly think that maybe the reader will understand if we misspell or do some other stupid thing, if we let them know we’re thumb writing. Why should they? Just because we’re all thumbs doesn’t grant us absolution. It’s about making life easy for them; not for ourselves. I teach this stuff in my Email Etiquette and Productivity workshops.

Which brings me to a point (more than to tell  you about my impressive new iPhone). No matter what we do, it’s about them. We don’t communicate for ourselves; we communicate to provide useful information for another soul. And to do that, we need to do it in a way that honors them – not our peculiarities.

After a program last week, a Director of Sales told me that he hired a veteran salesperson. She can sell, he said, if you don’t mind “rough around the edges.” Her language is too informal, her tone is too casual, her edge is too sloppy. What can he do to help her see that what she considers “being herself” isn’t helping her?

Here are 5 tips:

  1. Being ourselves is important to us. Being our best selves is important to others.
  2. We become our own distraction when we use language that is too flippant, too conversational, too casual. It would be like wearing a bikini to work. Seems reasonable when the temperature reaches 110 here in Scottsdale, especially if you happen to be hot flashing. And the bikini may be cute and you may even look good in it. You may be perfectly comfortable. But the other people won’t be. Unless you’re at the beach.
  3. If you sell service and not a tangible product with a transactional sale, the only thing you can really sell is attention to detail. If you don’t start paying attention to those details when you communicate, when will you?
  4. You can write like you talk; just remember to come back to clean it up. Not everything we would say, should we write.
  5. Don’t get sucked into another person’s casual attitude or informal approach. You represent yourself and the organization that signs your check. Regardless of how many “ciao’s” they use, unless you’re in Italy, refrain. No matter how many times, they punctuate with ;-), ;-(, whatever, if you’re past puberty, resist that temptation too.

If your casual is showing, you may want to reconsider. Even if it’s on a beautiful, sleek, pink encased iPhone
What else do you suggest?

6 replies
  1. Lisa Braithwaite
    Lisa Braithwaite says:

    I think there’s an issue here with perception. What I may perceive to be too casual or informal, another may not.

    I live in Southern California, where business dress and conversation probably seem extremely casual to someone from another state.

    Then there are cultural issues as well, where it may be considered rude not to make small talk about one’s family before commencing with business talk.

    One of my closest friends cut me off during lunch one day when I thought it was time to start talking business, the reason for our lunch meeting. She preferred to wait until after eating to talk business.

    Navigating others’ perceptions is not as easy as it might seem.

  2. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    “We don’t communicate for ourselves; we communicate to provide useful information for another soul.”

    I imagine that you work in the sales world but I can tell you that I “communicate for myself” all the time. I bet you do too.

    It doesn’t help a systems administrator’s soul to hear that their server is down and causing me problems. Plus, I don’t tell them that to help their soul — I do it for me.

    Sometimes it is perfectly OK to “show your casual.” 😉

  3. dkzody
    dkzody says:

    I just received a poorly written email from an employee at Bank of America who wants to make a presentation to my senior marketing class. I used his email as a lesson to my students, having them rewrite the email with correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I am hoping his speaking skills are much better than his writing.

  4. speakersue
    speakersue says:

    Good for you! Lemonade out of lemons! And what a great lesson for your students. Can’t wait to hear if his speaking skills are any better! Thanks for writing and keep fighting the good fight!

  5. speakersue
    speakersue says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Yes. I work in the world of sales. And yes, if I could be at my best every day, I would always communicate in terms of the other person. To my husband, my son, my mother, my 7 month old puppies, my friends, my clients and in every email I write and presentation I present. To you. I’d communicate in a way that would make it so easy for you to see how my point relates to you and your needs. I’d communicate to help you, respect you, communicate with you. To help that system’s admin, I’d authentically appreciate her/his expertise. I can’t do it which makes them way smarter than I am. And I’d appreciate that. To them. We all sell, Jeff. Call it negotiation, persuasiveness or influence. But we sell. And we do that best when we help the other person see the benefit of the sale. Thanks for writing!

  6. speakersue
    speakersue says:


    You are so right! Navigating others perceptions is never easy. I think the only thing we can do is to manage our own. Maybe some questions to ask are:
    Am I proud of what I’ve written, how I dressed, how I acted, what I said?
    Did I distract myself or others from the real issue?
    Could I have done better?
    Thanks so much for your insights.


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