We’ve all been there. You’re sending an email to a stranger or colleague and have no idea how to start it. ‘Hi’ is too informal, ‘Hey there’ too eager; why doesn’t anyone use ‘Dear’ anymore? And what’s the best way to sign off? ‘Take care’, ‘Regards’, ‘All the best’…
It’s a social minefield where the opportunity for embarrassment is constant.
And that’s just the fast and last words of your message. Emails, unlike face-to-face conversation, offer no chance of immediate feedback, no body language in reply to your rights and wrongs. Because of this it’s all too easy to make a bad impression quickly.
That’s where Crystal comes in. Working somewhere on the boundaries between technology and psychology, the team at Crystal have developed a system which gives you hints on exactly how to communicate with someone via email. It works like this: First, you give them the name of the person you’re about to email. They’ve built a complex algorithm which searches the internet for any trace of your chosen person, trawling through every word they have ever written from social media profiles to blog posts. Crystal’s technology then matches that person to a pre-existing personality type and recommends a style of communication for you to use based on what they will respond best to.
In a professional capacity, email is mostly about getting another person to agree with you, do what you want or perform well/better. Because of this tone, as well as content, will always be crucial in office email communication. As someone who regularly frets over how to start and finish emails, when I first heard about Crystal I thought the concept was fantastic. At last, an easy plugin which will do all of the worrying for me, and help me tailor my emails to fit each individual.
After that initial positive feeling, I started to think a little more about exactly what Crystal is, or could become. Essentially it’s a tool to help you communicate with others, but I think there’s a fine line between knowing how best to communicate and simply getting the upper hand. It seems unnerving that before you’ve even met, and without them being aware, you can know someone well enough to push the right buttons and trigger the end result you’re looking for. There’s arguably something a little immoral about this kind of potential manipulation.
I took on a trial with Crystal to better reach conclusions, and also asked some questions to their Growth Consultant, Luke Thomas…
Crystal’s recommendations are perhaps the most eerie and/or impressive part of the process. After searching for a person you’re offered a glimpse into the inner working of their mind. Actually, maybe that’s an exaggeration. You’re provided with an overview of how best to communicate with them. The profile includes a summary heading, with separate sections on how best to speak, email and work with the person in question. This is followed by sections detailing ‘It comes naturally to X to… and ‘It does not come naturally to X to…’. The summary is finished with an example email outlining the type of language and structure you should go for when communicating with this person. It’s thorough, at times remarkably accurate and certainly insightful.
Our end goal is to make communication healthy and productive. We believe that this can be achieved by focusing on others instead of yourself (empathy), and we’re continually improving the product based on that vision. There has to be value for both parties.” – Luke Thomas – Growth @ Crystal
Tips on ‘How to speak with X’ include “Use self-deprecating humour” and “Use colourful descriptions”, while the what does and does not come naturally section offers interesting observations such as “Make decisions purely on logic” and “Forget something important”. With many unusual, intriguing personality notes, Crystal is certainly a long way from the obscure, relevant-to-everyone nonsense you can read in a horoscope. Perhaps it’s unfair to even compare the two, but the feeling of reading supposed truths about yourself and others from a random source brings a horoscope to mind.
We also hear from customers on a daily basis who love the product and mention how it’s improved their relationship at work. Heck, Crystal has improved my own relationship with my wife by giving me insight into what ‘makes her tick’.” – Luke Thomas – Growth @ Crystal
When I searched for a numbers/maths obsessed friend of mine, I was immediately informed by Crystal that he likes working with spreadsheets, and makes decisions based on evidence and logic. Now, this information could well have been lifted from his LinkedIn profile, but I prefer to imagine that it came about as a result of an in depth analysis of his tweets from autumn 2012.
It isn’t just email templates and personality profiles that Crystal provides. They also have tools which allow you to assess the compatibility of teams you have in the office, or potential teams you’re looking to put together, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals involved and the collective they could form.
Although Crystal are at the early stages of developing personality algorithms that help benefit our communication, it’s easy to see huge steps forward possible in the not too distant future. As we as individuals continue to grow our online presence, increasingly sophisticated algorithms and personality diagnostics software will evolve to even higher levels. And with the rapid rise of artificial intelligence, it might not be that long until computers who understand empathy better than we do start crafting our emails for us.