Don’t entertain poor management, let poor management entertain you.

There’s a wolf! It’s Urgent! #AESOP

I received an e-mail the other day. It was marked urgent. In fact, out of the 50 or so words within the mail, at least 10 of them were urgent. Not urgent or Urgent, but URGENT. Apparently, it is a word that must be shouted in an e-mail. Shouting is what you call text written solely in upper case and is considered somewhat impolite. Impolite is a word that us Brits use when what we actually mean nose punchingly exasperating.

  • What is urgent? 
  • What is the definition of urgent? 
  • What is your definition of urgent? 
  • Has the definition changed recently? 

All these questions crossed my mind when I saw this mail, that is to say, after I had considered the actual content of the mail. The subject, that the writer considered to be worthy of such aggrandisement. There was no impending wolf attack, in fact, I quickly addressed by replying in - what I hoped would be for the sender, an infuriatingly efficient and, for me, painfully obvious, manner.
So, crises averted, a cup of tea at my side, sheep happy and content and time to move onto the more systemic issue… what is, rather than what was, urgent.
Most dictionaries will say something along the lines of requiring immediate attention or action, with synonyms like grave, pressing, crucial and serious. In my previous life, this adjective was also used when an element of threat to life or serious risk to property was present.

For example:

101 is the number to call when you want to contact your local police … when it

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UK Home Office

Advice

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Saturday that the increasing nuclear threat from North Korea has brought

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CNN Headline

29/10/17

Financial Conduct Authority boss calls for urgent Brexit transition deal.

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Financial Times

Headline 29/11/17

Few would argue that the use of this adjective in these circumstances is totally justified. In fact, upon reading the article in the Financial Times that had spawned the above headline I was interested to see the following paragraph…

Andrew Bailey, the head of the Financial Conduct Authority, told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that a transition deal needed to be agreed “PDQ” (pretty damn quick), even if a signed agreement before Christmas was not likely.

And here lies the problem with the use – or should I say overuse - of this word urgent. Because in fact what people generally mean is PDG, which in itself may be a synonym urgent but which in a business context does not attract the same ‘Boy who cried wolf’ risk.

Urgent originates from the Latin urgere – becoming Urgent, which means pressing or driving. It later made the transition in the 15-century to French where it became to press hard or to urge. Urge is a verb, it’s original meaning being to press hard, push forward, force, drive, compel, stimulate.

Les Urgences

In French, Les Urgences – is the part of a hospital equivalent to the Accident and Emergency Unit or Casualty Department in the UK or E.R. in the USA


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So, you get the picture. Urgent should be used to convey some form of need for emergency response, a need for this issue to go to the top of the pile immediately (as in the use of 999 advice) or crucial (as in the North/South Korea issue) or high priority (as in the Brexit situation.)

So, go on check your dictionary … it doesn’t look like this:

URGENT adjective UK /ˈɜː.dʒənt/


NEEDING ATTENTION very soon, especially when you have just found an e-mail that you have either forgotten about or not bothered to read and realised that you will be in deep trouble if you don’t do something about it. NEEDING ATTENTION before anything else and thus influencing negatively the prioritising capabilities of your colleagues, who now have to drop everything because you forgot to do something.

Examples:

This is urgent, if we don’t do it now, I’ll be fired.
The boss get so much rubbish in his inbox - probably thought it was spam - tell him it's urgent.
Never mind dealing with that client / customer – this is urgent.
As I have mentioned in the past, any form of 180° feedback in some cultures rarely works so it’s necessary to be a little more subtle with a constant ‘urgent’ offender. 

I find the replying as soon as you can with the required information works very well. Demonstrating that actually undertaking the task is often easier than avoiding it. If you are feeling in a particularly 'rub their noses in it'  mood then why not just happen to walk past the senders' office as soon as you can after sending your reply (whistling is good). 

Inevitably they will either grab of shout to you,” Hey, I sent you an e-mail …”
Interrupt them, “O’h yeah, done that, it will be in your inbox,” a nonchalant look is great for this, “coffee?”

I could go on, but I won’t. So, instead, I will tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a little boy who had to look after his father's sheep whilst his father was away of a corporate team building day…

  Sorry Aesop… which by sheer coincidence, stands for An E-mail -Superfluously Over Prioritised.

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