The written word is a different world to spoken. Face to face, we can easily gauge an individual’s meaning by way of facial expressions and other elements of body language. When reading an email or a digital message, those helpful hints are missing, and it becomes easy to misconstrue the meaning of a work of phrase. This is particularly so when it comes to one of the most used responses in the English language, the ubiquitous ‘OK’.
OK, or okay as it is sometimes written, is a general form of acceptance used in a wide range of situations. Spoken in a cheery fashion, it conveys exactly what is intended. Written as a response, it may come across as cold, uncaring, and more to the point, uninterested.
If, for example, you have sent a message to your boss regarding the progress of a job, and they reply simply ‘OK’, what does that say to you? For many people, it says that they are either unhappy with your progress, or you are simply not worth the time! Had that discussion taken place face to face, and the interpretation would have been far more favourable.
Why More is Sometimes Better
The curt appearance of OK in written form can be a problem, but there are ways to use it and soften the impact. Psychologists have found that when writing in English more words together appear to be less dismissive. For example, writing ‘OK that’s great’ or ‘OK, keep me informed’ shows appreciation and interest, rather than appearing to dismiss the writer out of hand. Those extra words take the place of a smile or a pat on the back and add reassurance where it may be needed.
There’s a lot to be said for how written business English is considered before responding, especially where you are not particularly familiar with the intended recipient. If someone has taken the trouble to write a few words, it appears polite in written terms to send a few back. It’s not a time-consuming exercise but may well mean the difference between being understood and not.
Consider the Options
Politeness is important in digital communication because, as mentioned above, the body language element of communication is lost. It’s also true that business communications often tend to be concise, so it’s no surprise that a quick ‘OK; may be considered sufficient in many instances. It’s recommended that you perhaps add a qualifying couple of words – see above – or maybe use the softer and less abrasive version ‘kk’ which is often used by the younger generations.
It’s notable that those of a younger age, who have grown up with digital communication, are more aware of the problems of using short, brusque ‘OK’ and perhaps even subconsciously so. The ‘kk’ option is considered more acceptable – even in business circles – thanks to it ‘softening the blow’.
It is OK to use OK, it’s just sensible to consider how it looks to the recipient, and to add a little extra so you don’t appear rude and uninterested when the opposite is intended.