Formal vs Informal: Which works is best?
Consider this email I sent a few weeks ago:
I’m well aware of everything you’ve said on the website, and I’m not expecting variety or anything at all, but I think it’d be worth letting you know that I’m vegetarian – I don’t eat meat or fish. If you could pass that on to the group leader it’d be awesomely appreciated!
Look at the words and sentence construction I used:
“Hi there” – an informal greeting
“awesomely appreciated” – clearly informal and unusual sentence construction in place of a simple “please”.
“cheers” – an informal way to sign off
The context of the email, is a holiday abroad, the whole nature of the email is informal, casual, but still important and to be dealt with.
Here’s the response I got:
Dear Mr Dobson,
Many thanks for your email. I have notified our agent that you are vegetarian so that they can make adequate preparations for your trip.
I hope that you have a great time. If there is anything else you need before you go please do not hesitate to contact me.
In my mind, this grates a little.
“Dear Mr Dobson” – formal writing
“our agent” – more formal and not the language that was initially used
“notified“, “adequate preparations” – complicated and/or formal way of saying “OK”.
“Kind regards” – largely-formal, way to sign off.
I didn’t want to speak to a business, I wanted a person. I wanted a person to give me a “yes, this is no problem” answer. I’d hoped that by phrasing my initial email in the way it did, this is what I’d get.
If I received my email, I’d have responded:
Yep, no problem at all, I’ve let the tour leader know for you.
Have a fun trip! Do feel free to give me a shout if there’s anything else I can help with,
Now I imagine, some people will be reading this thinking “I’d hate it if someone responded to me in a casual/informal manner – it wouldn’t instill confience at all – I’d much prefer the more formal response – that’s just what I prefer.”
When dealing with customers, it helps when one can adapt to suit the customer.
Being able to switch from cheery casual to serious formal, for the right people, will help the customer feel more comfortable and happy which is generally “a good thing“.
Obviously, the context is important, if you work in an industry where people generally prefer communicating in a more formal manner, and they’re wishing to complain to you about something, then now is [probably] not the time to see whether they’re more comfortable with fewer formalities.
My real problem in this specific instance, was that the context was clearly not “serious business”, I clearly just wanted someone to say “yes, fine”, but they didn’t really adapt and respond to me, in the way that would have been most reassuring.
It’s a tough balance, but in my experience, finding that balance, can make a big difference when working with people.