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The Failure Mode of Clever

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In today’s virtual business world, you constantly communicate with those you do not know well. Individuals who may not understand your personality and quirks. Who may come from a different culture. Or live in another part of the world and not share your mother tongue.

It is a good idea to play it very safe when dealing with those you do not know extremely well.

Great business advice re email communication. 

Unless You Really Know the Recipient, Keep Emails Dull

Courtesy of author John Scalzi, “The Failure Mode of Clever” [4].

Mr. Scalzi offers a couple of thoughts for people who communicate in writing with those they do not know. And want to impress by being clever.


1. The effectiveness of clever on other people is highly contingent on outside factors, over which you have no control and of which you may not have any knowledge; i.e., just because you intended to be clever doesn’t mean you will be perceived as clever, for all sorts of reasons.

2. The failure mode of clever is “asshole.”

Excuse the language, but it does nicely sum up the reality.

Yes, those who know me well, know that I can be one of the more sarcastic and clever people out there (but I am really clever, unlike the posers!) with my emails. But I do try to keep things very professional with those I do not know. Having dealt with people all over the globe, even innocuous and professional comments can easily be misconstrued in an email.

Mr. Scalzi makes some good points, so check out the link.

As an aside, if you enjoy good science fiction, John Scalzi [5] is an excellent author of that genre.

Watch Your Communications Elsewhere Too

Remember Tiger Woods? [6] Once a text is sent, a comment posted on Facebook, etc., it is out there for the world to see.

Even a private conversation [7] can make its way into the public realm.

Be sure you really want things to be out. 71% of U.S. Human Resource professionals [8] have rejected candidates based on their on-line reputation.

And even watch out for communications that do go to people who know you well. I have one friend who loves to forward emails without erasing the previous sender’s information. Once you hit send you never know what will happen, so assume the worst.