Editor's note: Guest blogger Chauncey Zalkin is the co-founder of Show Love LLC. In her heart, she's been an independent worker her whole life, but has had several stints as a senior brand strategist, trends expert, and editor.
When I lived in Europe, I missed the way people worked in New York: straightforward, to the point, get ‘er done. In Paris, on the other hand, you had to use flowery salutations in every email you sent back and forth with coworkers. These salutations literally translated to apologizing or bowing down obsequiously to the other. Take for example, “Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame et Monsieur, l’expression de mes respectueuses salutations," I beg you to agree Mrs or Mister with an expression of my respectful salutations. Or how about, “mes sentiments dévoués”, my devoted feelings. Oh such language! Full of artifice and pomp if not out and out sarcasm. Often the body of the email is chock full of witty insults and snide assertions of power. That’s Paris.
Now that I’m back, I’m stunned anew, but in a different sense. New York correspondence appears to me now as too cold, too blunt, self-important, and demoralizing. How many times have you read an email from a client and felt like they really didn’t have any respect for your work? That you were a walking-talking work order. Procurement. In an effort to do away with unnecessary informalities, we’ve also done away with a basic sense of friendliness and warmth. I’m sure consultants, vendors, and other clients must all be negatively affected by this. In this new culture of collaboration and social good, warmth and humanity is a bizarre omission – especially when we’re talking about tapping into the intellect, reasoning, creativity, and imagination of another individual or group. I’m not saying constant praise and reassurance à la dear old mom is in order, but consideration of the work and the person executing the work is key to success and work happiness.
I just hired an illustrator and a graphic design team for two different projects. During a call, the illustrator spoke in a glib and slightly cynical manner, and I got the sense that he’d been used and spit out by clients in the past. He seemed taken aback when I said that we were excited to work with him and that he was very talented. It was clear he’d never heard that from a client. He warmed immediately, his follow-up emails showed more enthusiasm than his initial correspondence, and the ideas started flowing. I told him he was talented and we were honored to work with him because it was true. I wasn’t trying to butter him up. I was grateful because he was going to be able to materialize the vision for the brand and already had the work to prove it. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t have hired him. But saying so is necessary. Praise or positive reinforcement is important every step of the way. That’s the way we humans actually work. Endorphins and energy rise with positive human interaction. Creativity, especially, is sacred. As much as I live for creative expression, I find it difficult to summon its power, so I appreciate when anyone else can tap into their imagination, intuition, reasoning, and technical skills to complete the creative act.
If you’re working with someone directly on a project, if you don’t answer their emails or dismiss their work bluntly in the name of expediency, you’re not doing anyone any favors. If you feel impatient or you’re too busy and managing too much, use the positive aspects of a New York shorthand but retain a note of kindness and respect. Consider the thoughtful mind you have before you. Unless the person is just not doing any work at all, or the work is really subpar and shows a lack of effort, rejoice in having found a person to spend hours, days, or even weeks tending to your project because they’re surely gathering up a great deal of passion and mental energy to do so. Work with them with honor and respect, even if you’re 18 syllables shy of a French salutation in doing so.
Image via flickr, Ari Moore.