Am I overly sensitive, or has there been an uptick lately in stilted, uptight, and bureaucratic messaging? For reasons I can’t quite explain, I seem to be encountering a larger-than-normal volume of bossy language, and it is really starting to wear on me.
The trend came to light for me a couple of weeks ago, when I received an e-mail message notifying me that a regularly scheduled meeting had been moved to a new day and time. I groaned when I read this, knowing that making the change would require major calendar shuffling that would affect several people. Had the message acknowledged the possible inconvenience, I probably would have taken it in stride. That is not how the message ended, however.
Instead, the signoff read, “Thank you for your cooperation”—words that did not make me feel cooperative at all.
Later that same day, I encountered a sign that read:
This office has no phones for the public. Pay phones are around the corner.
I thought to myself, “What prompts a message writer to identify him/herself as ‘The Management,’ and why not just say, ‘Pay phones are located inside, by the ATM machine’ or something else a bit more affirming?”
The next day I received a letter that began, “We have received your inquiry regarding X. In accordance with Policy X, we must disallow your request.” I do so hate anything that leads with a policy citation.
I sometimes think message writers think they are acting professionally when they use language that actually tends to alienate readers. I have a list of phrases that make me bristle, among them:
- “Your urgent attention is required to …”
- “As per our conversation of …”
- “Dear Sirs,”
- “Enclosed, please find …”
- “This message shall serve as official notification …”
- “Be advised …”
- “Effective immediately …”
- “Pursuant to …”
- “It has come to our attention …”
- “Dear Mrs. Vaillancourt,”
It is worth noting that I have observed attempts at being less bureaucratic that also cause me concern. For example, I debated whether to remain with one of my financial institutions when it sent a letter that read, “Below is some important information that we’re required to send you each year. It seems like a lot of legal stuff, but we promise, it will only take a few minutes. Give it a look.” Certainly, there must be a middle ground between obnoxiously uptight and frighteningly casual.
What is your latest experience with official communication? As per my comments above, which words and phrases make you crazy?