Professional communication is essential to making new contacts, working on internal and external projects, and advancing up the corporate ladder. Build your reputation and others’ confidence in you as a young professional by following etiquette standards in verbal and written communication. Communication, both written and verbal, is a part of your everyday professional experience. Not only do you have to navigate conversations with new contacts, but you also have to know how to work with and pitch your ideas to others.
8 Tips To Better Business Writing
This almost goes without saying...but not quite! Whether you like it or not, you will be judged on your ability to write, so do yourself a favor by paying attention in those classes. If you feel like your writing is not up to par or fully representative of your desire to communicate well, sign up for a class or workshop. We can’t stress enough how a well written resume and cover letter can set you apart from other candidates!
Mark Twain was once quoted with saying, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” The ability to be both brief and poignant comes with practice and is a skill that doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Focus on how to convey the core of your idea without being too verbose. For instance, instead of saying, “The market changed in an unexpected way, causing companies to think about how to react and adapt their strategies,” say something like, “Unexpected market changes caused companies to reevaluate their strategies.”
Particularly when writing something that could be read by someone outside of your immediate work environment, it’s best to avoid jargon or acronyms that could be confusing.
If you are looking for a decision or action on behalf of the reader, make that clear upfront so the reader can appropriately frame your message. Make the message relevant to the reader as early on as possible. Examples of opening sentence include: “Per your request, I have provided the following information,” “I am seeking approval for the following,” or “I would like to request a meeting to discuss the following.”
Always start out a message or letter with “Dear...” and end with “Sincerely,” “Thank You,” “Regards,” or another closing salutation preceding your name.
Certainly an honest mistake, make sure to double-check the spelling of someone’s name before sending a message. This will help the reader focus on your content and not the fact that you weren’t paying attention. If you notice your misspelled someone’s name, correct yourself immediately.
Make it easy for someone to follow-up with you by providing a signature block. In a back and forth conversation, it is acceptable to drop the signature block after the first message. A typical signature block includes:
- Your Name, Title
- Company Name / Department
- Mailing Address
- Email Address
- Office Number / Mobile Number / Fax Number
Emojis and very excited or sarcastic language are usually best reserved for casual conversations with friends and family. Depending on your industry and office culture, however, it may be okay to use emojis or more casual language. A good rule of thumb - know your audience!
Have you ever sent an email and wondered if the person received it?
Don’t make other people wonder if you received their message by sending a courtesy confirmation of receipt as soon as possible. It could be as simple as “Got it, thank you!” The purpose is to make sure your boss, colleagues, or clients know that you are responsive to their message and have their request in your queue, particularly if you are unable to get to it immediately. In a professional setting, people generally expect to hear back from someone within one business day.
There are several types of questions, and knowing which one you’re asking could help you get the best result. Some questions seek information or facts (ex: What time is the meeting next week?). Some questions try to find out what assumptions others might be operating under (ex: What experiences have you had that lead you to feel/think that way?). Some questions desire interpretation or applicability (ex: How does this new survey data affect how we engage with our customers?). Other questions are open-ended and invite others to think critically or brainstorm (ex: What are some ideas on how we can gain more market share?). Some questions clarify (ex: If I heard you correctly, you would like to launch the new product line next week instead of the week after?). And lastly, some questions ask for feedback or consensus and are meant to gauge someone’s pulse before proceeding with a decision (ex: Do you see any red flags, or are we OK to move forward?).
Everyone wants to be heard and understood. Someone who is emotionally intelligent will not only make someone feel heard, but they will also listen so intently that they will be able to change the way they think, act, or respond to the other person so that their relationship is more positive and effective. We can respect the people around us by genuinely listening to them when they have the floor, as we would expect the same in return.
Walking into a crowded room, our hearts beat rapidly with anxiety, but our bodies can tell a different story. Even for the shyest person among us, we can “trick” ourselves into believing that we own the room. And if we believe it, others will, too. There is a lot to be said about non-verbal communication, but we have a few tips when it comes to communicating yourself and your capabilities in a professional setting.
1. Making Calls
- Know whom you are calling and why before picking up the phone. Don’t multi-task, which can cause you to forget the purpose of your call while you’re waiting for someone to answer
- When your call is answered, introduce yourself immediately by saying something like, “Hi, this is Joe Smith with UCCS. I am calling to speak with Betty Jones. Is she available?”
- If your call goes to voicemail, leave a brief and clear message, and repeat your phone number twice. An example is: “Hi, this is Joe with UCCS. This message is for Betty Jones. My call is regarding our project due next week. If you could please return my call at your earliest convenience, I would greatly appreciate it. The best number to reach me at is 719-255-5555. Again, that number is 719-2555555. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
2. Receiving Calls
- Answer the phone only if you have time to devote to the caller’s need.
- Always identify who you are when answering with your name, for example: “Hi, this is John.”
- If the person doesn’t immediately introduce him/herself, politely ask, “May I ask who’s calling?”
- Set up a professional voicemail message like, “Hello, you’ve reached John Smith, I’m unable to answer my phone at this time, so please leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
3. Cell Phones
- Show respect and interest in those around you by turning your phone off during meetings.
- When in public (ex: restaurant), alert others you’re with that you may be expecting an urgent call. If a call comes through, immediately excuse yourself and make the call brief.
- Be aware of the loudness of your voice when talking on the phone in public, making sure to be either out of the room or as far away as possible.
Show Your Appreciation
Handwritten letters are a dying art! Show others that you’re willing to go above and beyond by taking time to write and send a handwritten thank you note. When you benefit from the kindness of someone else, show them that you appreciate them with a little note - it only takes a few minutes and will make a great impact!
Prove you're the best candidate
A thank you note could be the difference between you getting offered a job or getting passed up by someone seemingly more ambitious. If you are really on top of your game, write the thank you note in the car after the interview and drop it in the mail that afternoon. Point out something specific from your conversation so it’s personal. Your potential employer will be impressed by your thoughtfulness.
Does it have to be handwritten?
Do you have terrible handwriting? Or maybe you don’t have an easy way of getting someone’s mailing address? You can still show your gratitude by typing up a quick email. In the end, it’s the thought that counts!
When to send a thank you note
Send thank you notes immediately following job interviews and informational interviews. It is also appropriate to send a thank you note after an event at which you connected with the host. Make sure to mention something you learned or enjoyed to personalize it. Here’s a great example:
Thank you for the opportunity to interview for the [blank] position on Tuesday! I enjoyed learning how the company upholds its values in conducting business, and I am even more excited at the possibility of joining your team. I look forward to future contact, and until then, have a great day!
Have you ever noticed that some emails, particularly those coming from larger corporations, have short legal statements at the very top or bottom? These are called email disclaimers, and they are used to help mitigate the legal risk a company assumes when sending emails. In a court of law, emails are considered to be legal documents; therefore, one must take caution in what the email contains and to whom it is sent.
Here are some of the legal reasons a company may choose to include an email disclaimer:
- Breach of confidentiality - The viewer can be warned that the email content is confidential and should not be forwarded. The language can also be written so that an accidental breach of confidentiality is potentially forgivable if an email is sent to someone inadvertently.
- Transmission of Viruses - A company can be sued for transmitting a virus, so a disclaimer may include verbiage that states that the receiver is responsible for scanning and deleting viruses.
- Binding contracts - Some companies try to prevent their employees from entering into binding contracts via email when they don’t have the authority to do so. The disclaimer can ensure that only the appropriate authority figures can commit the company to a binding contract.
- Professional Advice - A company assumes liability when one of its employees offers professional advice to a third party via email, particularly if there are ill effects of heeding such advice.
- Vicarious Liability - Though a company cannot be completely absolved of the words and actions of its employees, it can potentially reduce liability by including a disclaimer that the company has trained its employees not to misuse email or make any inappropriate or inflammatory statements.
A NOTE ABOUT ETHICAL EMAILS:
Beyond following your company’s email rules, there are things you can do to ensure your emails are ethical. Be careful to avoid sarcasm, inappropriate or sensitive information, and always speak positively about your company and coworkers. Remember, the company owns your email and can retrieve old emails at any time!
Introducing yourself and Others
Smile and make eye contact when introducing yourself! This makes you seem kind, interested, and approachable. Convey confidence with a firm handshake, but don’t be so strong that you crush someone’s hand. If you are sitting, stand to shake someone’s hand.
When introducing one person to another, start by introducing the “lower rank” person to the “higher rank” person. Say something like, “Mrs. Jones, I’d like to introduce to you to Mr. Brown, our new junior level marketing specialist. Mr. Brown, this is Mrs. Jones, the director of the IT department.” Remember that clients or anyone outside the company are considered to be more important than anyone within the company.
A networking event provides you with an opportunity to meet and talk with new people, and it can be intimidating to walk up to people particularly if they are already engaged in a conversation. Before interrupting, try to find someone not currently engaged in conversation and introduce yourself. After you’ve had a moment to learn about them, what they do, and make any potential connections, ask him or her to introduce you to anyone they might know at the event. If everyone seems to be enjoying their conversations, it’s ok to take an opportunity to get a drink or visit the restroom.
Not sure what to talk about? Before heading out to your networking event, brush up on current events or read an interesting trade or professional article. Focus on positive or thought-provoking topics, and try to steer clear of topics that could be polarizing, offensive, political or negative. And when all else fails, talk about everyone’s favorite topic - themselves!