There are two kinds of people in the world. I call them get to the point people and have a nice day people. Get to the point people want you to lead with your main point. They do not want you to wish them a nice day. In fact, they might not even care whether they are having a nice day. They just want results. For these people, opening with your main point is best.
However, have a nice day readers feel put off by having the main point thrust in their faces before you establish a feeling of friendly relationship. For these readers, a sentence or two that acknowledges their humanity and emphasizes a shared experience will open them up to your message.
When your reader needs you to establish a relationship before pursuing results, starting with the main point may be a mistake. Hard-driving Americans, especially Northerners and Westerners, often feel that all that matters is to get to the business at hand. However, outside the United States, and in some regions of the United States, the get-to-the-point mentality is considered rude. Have a nice day people need you to wish them a nice day.
In a training I led in the American South, a woman stated that if an email did not open with a polite greeting and comment, she would delete it without reading it. “If the person doesn’t respect me enough to greet me kindly, I don’t want to know what he says,” she announced. While this position may be extreme, the fact remains that getting straight to the point is off-putting to many people.
Getting to the point vs. having a nice day attitudes vary among cultures. When the reader’s culture prioritizes relationships, she may feel insulted if you get straight down to business. As Lanie Denslow of World Wise, an expert in global communication, says, “Americans are all about communicating data and facts quickly. We get to the point and move on. However, for our colleagues from most of the rest of the world, maintaining a polite, pleasant relationship between the parties is as important as sharing information.” Many Americans feel the need for connection as well.
Denslow recommends that when writing outside North America and most of Western Europe, you take the time to write a few sentences at the beginning of the communication to build toward your main point. She advises, “Begin with something else that you share with the reader; then move to the problem you need to discuss.” In other words, assume that outside the US and Western Europe – and even within many areas of these regions – the person you are writing to is a have a nice day person.
When writing to these readers, start out slowly. Comment on some positive event or a shared experience. You can even comment on the weather. Your opening comment need not be worthy of a Pulitzer Prize; it just has to humanize your communication. Remind the reader of your relationship. Once you have established your connection, you can start getting to your point. For example, if you have to share some bad news with your reader, you could start by writing:
I hope you are enjoying this lovely springtime. I remember fondly when I visited your office last year, and we took a walk through the public garden. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already!
I need to write to you about a problem we have been having, which I hope you can help with…
Remember, everything in writing comes down to the reader. If putting your main point first will make your reader feel assaulted or insulted, why do so? Focus on your communication goal, which is to convey your ideas into your reader’s mind with as little resistance as possible. If you know your reader needs you to get straight to the point, don’t make him wait for it while you dither in useless greetings.
But if your readers are have a nice day people, whether because of their culture or their personality, open your message gently and lead up to your main point. And if you don’t know what kind of person your reader is, err on the side of caution by using the have a nice day approach. You can always become more get to the point later.
As we say in Worktalk writing programs, “Write for your reader!”
©2017 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved
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