Exceptional Business Etiquette

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Effective business communication keeps everyone happy and business rolling along.

Email, phone calls and meetings are the information fuel lines that keep your workplace running at top performance. Optimize your communications in seven simple steps:

1. Don’t waste people’s time.

Joel Babbit, the CEO of Mother Nature Network hates long meetings. He told Corner Office: ” the higher up you go in a corporation… the shorter the meetings…You meet with the vice president, that’s an hour. You meet with the chief financial officer, that’s half an hour. You meet with the CEO, it’s 10 minutes…same thing with returning phone calls: assistant vice president takes four days; vice president takes two days; the CFO in one day; the CEO calls you back in 10 minutes…that’s how he got where he is.” Want to get somewhere? Don’t waste people’s time. Same goes for emails or phone calls – get to the point without being short or insulting. Being straightforward and succinct shows respect for your colleague’s time, and indicates that you have things to do yourself.

2. Be organized.

Return someone’s call after you’ve reviewed the file, not as you’re scrolling through your database looking for their record. Nobody wants to wait on the phone while you get yourself organized.  Implement consistent systems for storing information. You know the difference between long-term memory and short-term memory? Don’t try to keep all the facts in your head. File them in a location where they can retrieved instantly. And clean your desktop, both physically and virtually.

3. Be informative.

The worst kind of managers are information hogs. They read somewhere that ‘information is power’ and they decide to keep it all to themselves. They think ‘share’ is a financial word. Don’t be one of them. Say things, don’t insinuate them. Don’t ask your colleagues to play ‘whack a mole’ when they need a direct answer. When writing an email, make the subject line and message meaningful, not mysterious. If you’re responding to something time-sensitive, put your answer in the subject line, if at all possible. For instance, here’s a message from a colleague:

Subject:    Jack

Message:   Has Jack left? Do you have a cell number for him? I need to catch him before he gets on the plane.

Your reply?  Subject line: Jack’s gone. 212-878-9900.

No further message required.

Same goes for long email strings on the same subject.  Change the subject line to reflect the content of your response. Nobody wants to hunt through through a series of replies all with the same  subject line looking for THE message they need.

4. Be respectful and considerate.

Courtesy is always appreciated. This especially goes for faceless communications such as email. Email is the enemy of the short-fused. Trying to be brief and efficient can brew impulsive and seemingly rude emails, or incomplete messages that convey the wrong impression. Re-read what you write before sending it. Fill in the address line last, so you don’t fire off ill-considered or abrasive commands.  Include a greeting and a sign-off, even if it’s just an initial.

6. Be specific.

If Jack’s facing a deadline, he doesn’t need communications that say things like, “Time’s a wasting” or “We need this soon.” When do you need it exactly? Today by 11? Next week? The same goes for dates – always include the Day of the Week, as in, Tuesday, June 5th. People can respond to specific requests, but are frustrated by vague demands.

7. Be business-like

Business communication doesn’t have to be stiff, but consider your interlocutor in all your communications – some people appreciate emoticons (I do : ^ )  !!  and some people don’t.  Your IT department will probably hate you if you clog up the bandwidth with lots of clip art doodads and pictures in your email. But working life needs colour, too, so if your colleagues are attuned to it, customize or send the Daily Dilbert. If they are not, it’s best to follow the approved template and keep your communications crisp and (your organization’s version of) buttoned down.

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