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When a Short Request Is Acceptable

When is it appropriate?

In the work place short requests are not uncommon. There are many times when a short request is appropriate and necessary, but would seem rude in a social situation. William Swanson, well-known for being the CEO of Raytheon Company, and author of Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management, stated a goal in rule number fourteen, to strive for brevity and clarity in all oral and written reports.
“Rudeness is in the eye of the beholder,” says Dr. Barbara Griffin, organizational psychologist, from the University of West Sydney, Australia. She goes on to say that “rudeness is purposeful or non-purposeful lack of courtesy.” 
Considering the fact that the context of business is clearly different than social, the rules change. That being the case, rudeness can still happen and will have an undermining effect on the bottom line, according to Chris Young, founder of the Rainmaker Group; however, since the rules are different and there is more need for brevity, the leeway for targeted, generally briefer communications falling within the realm of polite, is wider.
The natural way of speaking to people and communicating desires and needs is through politely presented requests. Polite takes into consideration many factors, among which are: level of simplicity or complexity of the information in the request, the level of familiarity of the recipient of the request with the related information, the level of importance or value of the request, and the time sensitivity of it. 
A new manager may feel uncomfortable with the idea of the seemingly rude communication that a short request sometimes appears to be. In time the new successful manager will realize that the short and quick requests are what keep the operation fresh and provide direction at crucial times. After examining the appropriateness of giving such an abbreviated request in the context and situation of particular business circumstances, the act of giving a command or making a highly abbreviated request becomes not rude.
According to Robert Sweitzer, professor of business at Claremont Graduate School, there are three main situations that giving a short request make business sense and are not rude or offensive:

  • When the task is very simple and next to no explanation is required.
  • When there is sufficient urgency.
  • Where there is sufficient familiarity with the information.
“Please” should still be used but the idea is that it is not rude to make a short request such as, “Please do this,” in business, in the above cases, in general.
Where it is rude to give a short request would be in the opposite cases. When the recipient of the request is not familiar and is not expected to be familiar or expected to be familiar with information pertaining to the request, a short request is inappropriate. The more new information needed to go along with the request, the more explanation need go along with the request.
Generally, if the task is complex and there are several steps, or it is more like a project, and the recipient of the request is not familiar with the steps than the request should be made to include reference to the steps.
Usually, there is some basic presumption of urgency in business because of a desire to satisfy the customer, as well as to make a profit. The old adage, “Time is money,” is alive and well because it usually rings true.
Due to varying and often increasing levels of familiarity with information, what may start out needing to be a longer-explained request may end up becoming short request material after experience and repeated performance.
Often times, as a matter of pure focus on a particular task or activity, it is human nature to be succinct in communications in general. As long as the communication is not disruptively tense or negative, the focus is good for business.
The point is that it is often not rude to make a short request in the middle of a business setting as long as it fits in with the climate of the operation. The idea is that respect is always maintained toward the recipient of the request, and that is not disrespectful in several situations to give a command or short request.
More information on this and other business communications topics can be found in Guide to Managerial Communication: Effective Business Writing and Speaking, Mary Munter and Thea Haley, Prentice Hall, 2005.

This article was originally written by Jean Lewis.