COMMUNICATION: Business letters become more informal

Business leaders appear in sneakers, companies address their customers uninvited – the style of communication in business has changed. “Reducing red tape is in tune with the times,” says management consultant Jana Völkel-Kitzmann. But it also opens new traps: “How not to step on someone’s toes?”

Audi boss Markus Duesmann, for example, could be written with “Dear Mr. Duesmann” and close the letter with “With best regards” or “Best regards” – that’s what protocol experts from the ministry Federal Interior suggest in their guide. However, Audi has been gradually introducing gender-sensitive language since March 2021. “When addressing ourselves, we generally only use the first and last name and start letters or emails to customers with, for example , “Hello, first name, last name” or “Dear Audi customers” and we refrain from gender-specific information,” says a spokeswoman in Ingolstadt.

Audi is therefore one of the pioneers. “Since then, many companies from a wide variety of industries have contacted us about our experiences,” explains the spokesperson.

The Haufe Academy also reports great interest in its training seminars: “The topic of gender, how to choose the politically correct way to approach it, is currently a high priority for all participants, especially from the banking sector, insurance and government, becoming an everyday standard,” a spokesperson said.

“Dear Sir or Madam”, can an e-mail or a letter still begin like this? Previous forms are less used, but they are not going away, says Völkel-Kitzmann of the Management Institute Kitzmann.

What’s striking: Familiar address forms, such as those used on Whatsapp and Tiktok, are increasingly appearing in emails and letters. But: “Business partners should not be written moin moin or hej, but politely and respectfully if you communicate professionally,” says the consultant. “Anyway, it’s tactless to address someone by their first name without being asked, like in the advertisement at the bus stop. Younger employees can embrace this from social media. However, not everyone wants to be treated in such a friendly way.

Correspondence Consultant Claudia Marbach is often asked if a salutation or salutation is fake. “It’s not wrong as long as there are no spelling or grammar mistakes. It might not be original, it might be boring, bland, complicated, distant,” she said. “And you may have different opinions about it. Everyone feels it differently. The decisive factor is “empowering, respectful and positive communication”.

If formal greetings and greetings need to be replaced by individual, personal greetings, but time is running out, a short “Hello” in emails and at the end an “LG” should sometimes suffice. Marbach doesn’t think that’s possible: “If you want to send greetings, you can also take the time to write the words down,” she says. “When my husband says ‘I love you’, I don’t say ‘ditto’ just because it’s faster.”

The style also depends on the industry. The tone is more conservative in banking and insurance, while it tends to be more relaxed in technology, sports and fashion. But “relaxed is not the same as good, positive, respectful or grateful. Looser isn’t necessarily better,” says Marbach. “For example, I think it’s abusive when my mobile operator uses my familiar name in emails: ‘Hello Claudia’.” Walking the tightrope between classic and original, distant and pandering, dull and impetuous requires a sure instinct.

A lot of things are in motion. The demand for traditional and formal letter communication is said to be increasing again now. So: be sensitive! Who am I dealing with?

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