Can too much formality inhibit business progress?

While chatting to close friends last week, they were telling me about some property they are in the process of selling. They showed me a letter that had been written by the prospective buyers’ lawyer and was sent to their lawyer. I was quite amazed at the language and communication style used in the letter and how it prolonged the sale process unnecessarily and sparked negativity between two parties that had no previous relationship or reason to be upset with each other.

I started thinking about the implications of the use of ‘formal’ written communication in business. In the case above, there were some very simple questions that could have been asked that would have made such an inflammatory formal letter unnecessary…the 2 lawyers work in the same town, a 5 minute walk from each other. A phone call or quick meeting to clear up any questions/misunderstandings would make sense, it would save much time in getting the business objective accomplished, clients would happy, and the lawyers relationship with each other would be strengthened.

In business we are presented with a multitude of communication methods and we have to determine the most appropriate method of communication for each topic. Added to that is our increasingly litigious society where we feel the need to formally document things for fear of repercussion. While I agree that documenting actions and agreements is important, as it creates clarity in expectations and helps to minimise misinterpretation, I do think we need to hold ourselves to some basic common sense rules of communication. This is especially important when we are at the early stages of a new business relationship or business transaction. Formality is probably not the most effective method of communication at this point as there are more questions than answers, it’s a time for clarification and building trust, ‘over formality’ at this point can have a negative impact.

  • Making communication effective is the real aim. We need to be clear on what our objective is and make sure our communication method and style helps us meet that objective. In the case above, the business objective is to deliver the sale of the property. One party has agreed to sell and another has agreed to buy, at a price they are both happy with. Now they both want to get this done as smoothly and quickly as possible, so using a communication method that can clear up any questions promptly is most appropriate.
  • Putting customer needs 1st is an imperative that should drive our communication method choices. In the case above, do the clients want to fight, is creating an inflammatory situation that prolongs the sale in their best interest? They don’t know each other, they are all aged over 70 – they just want to get the sale done so they can all move on with their lives.
  • Be conscious of how you are feeling. Do you feel that you are communicating in the most appropriate way to efficiently and effectively meet the objective or do you feel like you just want to get your point across? If you feel you are having a bio-reaction to something – don’t react right now. Wait till you calm down, when you are thinking more objectively then pick up the phone, have the meeting or write the email/letter.
  • Don’t overcomplicate communication – keep the main points clear and simple. Is there really a need to add comments that may potentially muddy the water, create animosity and inhibit progress?

When you think of it, communicating is what we do the most of in our lives. Let’s make sure that the thing we spend the most time actively doing is something that enables, not inhibits progress!

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