Proper Business Communication Etiquette in the Workplace

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The workplace has changed in many ways over the past twenty years, but perhaps in no greater way than proper business communication etiquette. While we still use telephones, email has become the dominant form of written business communication. On top of that, we have the relatively new and ever-evolving technologies of video conferencing, instant messaging and social media. With these new communication methods, the etiquette of business communication has changed. Whether you communicate with customers, partner companies, vendors or only your coworkers, it’s vital to get your message across clearly, effectively, and professionally and avoid making mistakes that could put you and your company in a bad light.

The Importance of Good Communication Etiquette

How we communicate helps shape how others see us, and appropriate communication is essential to successful business operations. Effective, concise, thorough communication can help develop business relationships. When considering good communication, consider the following when deciding which communication works best for the issue at hand:

  • Decide on the required formality of the communication
  • The importance or need for good documentation
  • The urgency of response required
  • The level of detail needed in the communication
  • The number of people being communicated with
  • The sensitivity of the information being communicated

Assessing these points will help you decide how to communicate. Will it be a short phone call with some sensitive information, an email to multiple parties with high-level project information, or a long email to a team member with lots of detail not needed by everyone? Get the nature of the communication wrong and problems can arise.

Good Email Practices

Email is usually the best method to ask a question or deliver a message quickly while remaining formal and keeping an accurate record. Email is also good for delivering a message to multiple people at once, or if you need to send attachments such as documents, spreadsheets or images. It is generally less useful if an immediate response is needed, although a follow up email as a written record of a phone conversation is often advisable. It should be used with caution if sensitive information is to be delivered; there are often better channels of communication when privacy is required. When deciding on sending an email make sure the addressee lines are correct, placing the correct recipients in the “To”, “CC” and “BCC” sections. Don’t overdo recipients, especially if sending externally outside the company. Ask yourself – does this person really need to see this message? When replying, be wary of the “Reply All” button – does everyone need to see your response, or just the sender? Always think and review before hitting send on any email. As for the content of the message, address the following:

  • Subject Line – explain clearly what the message is about
  • Consider the formality of how you address the recipient(s) – is it “Hey Bob” or “Mr. Smith”
  • Overall tone – it can be hard not to sound condescending, aggressive, flippant or impatient in an email; attempts at humor should be avoided unless it’s a personal message or you and the recipient understand each other very well
  • Grammatical correctness and spelling – people will forgive occasional minor errors, but more than this is damaging to you personally and shows your company in an unprofessional light

Telephone Communication

The telephone is one constant in the business world, no matter what technological advances come along. Sometimes getting on the phone to work through a pressing issue is the only way to communicate. Phone calls allow for a lot information to be passed back and forth very quickly, and each person can hear the other party’s voice, removing the risk of misrepresenting the tone of the conversation.

Other Electronic Communication

We don’t just rely on emails in the modern business world. Increasingly we use:

  • Video conferencing
  • Instant messaging and texts
  • Twitter, Facebook and website communications

Video conferencing is a natural advancement of phone technology and allows everyone to see as well as hear each other. Communication etiquette in a video conference should be as you’d expect in a regular meeting, so treat it with the same respect. If you’re video conferencing from home, make sure nobody can see those pajama pants below your shirt and tie.

Texts and instant messages are not as commonly used to message between companies, but they are often used to send quick internal notes to colleagues, such as last-minute meeting updates or delays. Keep language and spelling correct, and restrict text abbreviations and emojis that might be more common for personal communications.

Finally, social media has become increasingly common in the business world. Many companies have Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that they use to communicate, advertise and market to their customers, and allow an easy way for customers to provide feedback. If you’re involved in social media communications for your company, be aware of the risks. You’ll often want to set an informal tone, but posts can backfire if the tone isn’t right. Although humor may be appropriate, avoid being too flippant and take care that posts aren’t insensitive, dismissive or poorly timed. Bear in mind that even the best posts can be attacked by trolls or someone with a complaint against your company.

For more information on this topic check out this Order of the Golden Rule blog and this Business Insider article, and the many other sources online. And check out SafetySkills’ Electronic Communication Etiquette for Business for more formal training on this subject.

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