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Business Communication Etiquette 101


Listen and Learn

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Many offices adopted a "business casual" attire in the workplace in the 1990's. This meant a more relaxed attire - no more suits, ties, panty hose, and so forth. Unfortunately, many business people have also adopted a business casual attitude in their business communications.

Everyone could benefit from a lesson (or two!) in "netiquette" - or how to communicate professionally in a business environment using tools such as e-mail, instant message programs, text messaging and so forth.

Technology has made communicating a very different medium than it was just five years ago. We're all so busy that we dash off quick messages, sometimes totally forgetting to use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. While this is acceptable for friends, it is not acceptable in a professional environment.

E-mail is often the first communication that one has with a potential client or business associate. It is still very true that first impressions are the most important. If you had a meeting with someone whose clothes were dirty and torn, had messy hair and provided you with inaccurate product information, you probably wouldn't end up doing business with them. Yet, every day, this same "unkemptness" appears in business communications.

Take this example: "Per ur request, i'm sending our current info. IMHO, we have the best produce in the mkt." Gee, I'd really want to do business with this person, wouldn't you - and are they selling fruits and vegetables, or did they misspell product?

Spelling, punctuation and grammar do count. Most e-mail programs have the ability to check these items. The little squiggly underlines are not there for fun! They are pointing out an error. Don't ignore them. Also, don't be in such a hurry to send your message that you don't quickly re-read it. (Don't get me started on people who send text messages while driving!) Once you hit "send" there is no way to correct your message, so take the time to make sure it's truly what you want to say before sending it.

While you may think you're being funny, remember that there is absolutely no way for the recipient to know the "tone" that you intended for your message. You may think you're being brief and succinct, while they will think you're being curt and impolite. Of course, many people now use "emoticons" to try to convey emotions. Sending a smiley or winking face is OK when the recipient is your friend; however, it's not OK when you're communicating with a CEO. After all, you wouldn't send a hand-written note to a CEO with all of the "dots" in your "i's" as smiley faces or hearts, would you?

The only thing worse than emoticons is "Internet slang" - that is, the abbreviation of many words. While practically everyone knows what "FYI" means, what about AFAIK and NOOB? Just as you shouldn't use an acronym unless you are absolutely certain the recipient knows what you mean, don't use Internet slang either.

When we communicated with our friends when we were young, we wrote: "How are you? I am fine." We've all forgotten this basic politeness. While we don't want to be this simple, it is much better to say: "It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday. I enjoyed learning about your business and as you requested, I am sending you our current product information. I'll follow-up with you in a couple of days to answer any questions you may have." Unfortunately, in our fast-paced business world, the more typical communication is along the lines of: "Here's the info. Call me if you have questions." While both say essentially the same thing, who would you rather do business with - especially if this was the first communication you had with the person about their company and their product?

When you really want to impress someone, the best way is to take the time to write them an actual note or letter that you put in an envelope, put a stamp on and mail, rather than dashing off a quick e-mail. It doesn't matter that your penmanship may not be perfect. What's important is that you actually took the time to send them a personalized communication. We all loved getting cards and letters when we were young and I believe the same is true today. Aside from anything else, a personal communication sets you apart from everyone else who just sends e-mails and quick text messages!

No matter what form of communication you use, remember that when you take the time to make sure it is correct, you are showing a certain level of respect for your recipient. How important are they to you - and your business?

FYI - AFAIK means "as far as I know" and NOOB means "someone who is new."

by Deborah Krier

Deborah Krier, president and founder of Wise Women Communications, is a marketing and public relations professional with experience in media and public relations, internal and external communication, crisis management, integrated marketing campaigns, brand management, event coordination, Web site design and development, and community relations. She managed corporate communications programs for the Denver site of ING Group, served as a media and communications coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region of the American Cancer Society, served as the director of public relations and account manager for Linnell & Soreide Marketing Partners, a full-service marketing and advertising firm. In addition, she provided lobbying support at a state and local level for Corporate Advocates, a Denver-based firm. Deborah holds an MBA degree with an emphasis in marketing from the University of Colorado and an MS degree in communications management from Colorado State University.

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Check Workplace Communication Section for more communication tips at workplace.

See Grammar Video Tutorials for more info on grammar.