The Mercantile’s Guide to Style

Today we continue to explore how to comport oneself via email. The first rule here is brevity. The message you want to convey is, of course, your message, but also that your time is valuable, more valuable, in fact, than clarity, and that you are far too busy to bloviate ad nauseum over last week’s sales numbers, or even to play Scrabulous on Facebook, surf eBay for vintage fountain pens, or google your old college chums. Ideally, you don’t even have time to type properly. For those of us typing with all ten fingers, achieving the proper degree of obfuscation takes practice… results can easily be achieved instantaneously using ordinary Scotch tape. Simply wrap tape ten or twelve times around the fingers of both hands. Now type, as quickly as possible, your message. Just because email reduces our text to uniform type doesn’t mean we need to bid farewell to those happy days when the illegibility of an office missive increased in direct proportion with the authority and importance of the writer. Doctors have managed to keep this principle alive and well–just because we can sew your aorta back together under a microscope, their scrawls imply, doesn’t mean we can operate a pen with any more facility than an Orangutan. Ergo:

“fR$D, Tkz fer sls fgiures. Kpe pu th gd wrk. If you cld just dkjaLSadkh daskjkjkj in the bored room frst thing in the mrning, tht’d be grt! Tks, Ed Scripsi, Executive Director”

The clarity at the end is achieved, of course, with an automatic signature, available on most email clients, which throws the disorientation and unreadability of the actual email into stark relief. Bewildered, Fred assumes that you are either too pressed for time to get it right, or that you have just come from a 6 or 7 martini lunch with the top brass, and are on your way up the ladder. Which, by the way adds an impressive layer illegibility to the finger-binding technique.

Another valuable principle to keep in mind was popularized by George Orwell in his Orwellian novel 1984. This is known as the “Big Brother” effect, and is best summarized as: “Who’s watching who, jerk?” Fortunately, again, technology is on your side (another general principle to observe is never to do anything personally that your computer can’t do automatically). Set your email to demand a read receipt. As soon as you receive notification that your email has been read, call Fred and tell him, very rapidly, that if he could include figures from the first quarter of last year in his revised appendices, that’d be great. Even better, have your secretary do it, but under strict orders not to let Fred get in a word, to hang up immediately, and rebuff any and all requests for clarification. All that remains is to buy a box of Krispy Kremes and wait in the boardroom for Fred, bedraggled and dark-eyed, to arrive. This will obviously provide you with a good day’s entertainment. If Fred seems less plussed than he ought to be, possibly out of an obvious devil-may-care attitude toward his job, simply fire him on the spot. Or, if he manages to squirm and improvise his way through the meeting (with ample assistance by making apocryphal references to the report you alluded to in your earlier email) simply add to his discomfiture by setting your email client to delay sending–set it to send further garbled instructions until 4 a.m.  Fred will conclude you are losing sleep over his performance and probably lose some sleep himself. Another tip: buy a dozen different donuts and note which one he selects. A cruller, was it? See to it that Fred hears through the water-cooler grapevine, that crullers are your absolute favorite, that Eddie Henderson, down in billing, once ate the last cruller in a meeting and was transferred to accounts receivable by the end of the day. Clearly, a little flare allows you to rule the workplace with fear and paranoia, giving your company the competitive edge needed to compete in today’s electronic world. -Ed Scripsi

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Published in: on June 18, 2008 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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