In the past 20 years , the ways in which we communicate in the workplace have changed dramatically. At one time, a day in the office consisted of hours on the phone with clients, suppliers, and business partners; now we have the option to email, text, or even video chat with our business contacts.
So many lines of communication can sometimes leave us baffled as to what is expected of us. What is an acceptable time frame for responding to an email? When can a text replace an email? When and where is it okay to take a phone call? Is eye contact necessary or even possible on Skype? No matter how you choose to communicate, it’s important always to maintain professionalism in your business relationships because those relationships can mean the difference between success and failure.
Here are some insights into what to do and what not to do to ensure you maintain proper business communication etiquette.
- If you are making or answering a phone call, ensure that there is somewhere private you can take the call in case the conversation turns to a delicate topic or includes confidential information.
- Never accept phone calls during a meeting, as it sends the message that those in the meeting are less of a priority or less deserving of your attention.
- At business lunches or networking events, your cell phone should never be placed on the table. It conveys the message that you are waiting for someone better to come along and can make you appear closed off to networking with others in the room.
- When you are taking a call on speakerphone, let the caller know. No one appreciates finding out too late that four other people were in the room for the conversation.
- Use a business-appropriate ring tone. An inappropriate ring tone can leave a bad impression with business colleagues and clients and result in their making inaccurate judgments about you as a business person.
- Ensure that your email address itself is business appropriate. No one wants to email email@example.com, unless it is a legitimate bakery.
- Use spell-check and proofread your emails before sending. Typos are not only unprofessional, but can send the message that the email was rushed and was not a priority for you.
- Once your email is drafted, read it aloud before sending. Tone can be easily misinterpreted in emails.
- Reply All is often not the best option. Not everyone may need or appreciate your response. Inboxes can fill up quickly when Reply All is used in an email thread.
- Respond to emails as soon as you have the opportunity to do so. If you are unavailable for a certain period, use out of office responses. Inactivity implies unimportance.
- Avoid using acronyms, abbreviations, or slang in text messages with your business contacts. “Omw c u soon” might be acceptable when texting with friends but is that really how you want to confirm a meeting?
- The same rules apply to texts as emails; grammar and tone are important. For example, make sure the Caps Lock is not on, or your contact may think you are angry or yelling.
- Be cognizant of the message you are texting. Is it the best method to cancel a meeting, arrange a keynote speaker, or remind a customer of a payment due?
- Don’t use texts for long or drawn-out messages. Keep texts brief and end the conversation at an appropriate time. Not everyone has to have the last word.
- Do not send texts at inappropriate hours; adhere to office hours. Try not to send a text at 10 PM unless it is absolutely urgent. This will also allow you to avoid being blocked.
Video Conferencing (Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime)
- Make eye contact. This can be trickier than it sounds. Many people using video conferencing focus their eyes on the computer screen, but looking directly into your camera will give the impression that you are looking into the eyes of the person on the other end. That’s a very crucial personal touch, one very necessary when trying to make an impression using cold, hard technology.
- Try to refrain from fidgeting, slouching, or overusing hand gestures. Pretend that the person on the computer is sitting across the table from you.
- Keep in mind that you should be professional and presentable but not overdressed. Both you and your surroundings should look professional.
- Be aware of your volume controls and background noise.
- Keep video conference meetings to a reasonable time limit. Studies show that after 45 minutes people start zoning out. No one wants to lose business by being too long-winded electronically.
- You are not expected to be an expert in video technology, so if you are having technical issues, own it. Don’t blame the technology.
Now that you have some idea of proper etiquette with various modes of communication, you may be asking yourself: “How do you know which medium to use in any given situation?”
If you are responding to a contact, use the same medium as the person that initiated the conversation. If you received an email from a business contact, then it is fine to respond with an email. However, if the topic needs to be discussed in depth, then a more interactive form of communication should be used, such as a phone call or video conference meeting.
Often when you make a contact face-to-face, the person will state how you should make contact in the future: “shoot me an email” or “give me a call.” If they do not, then a phone call is still the preferred method of communication when you reach out to a business contact for the first time.
Text messages should only be sent to contacts you know well or those who have messaged you before. Use sparingly, and only for short conversations or as an FYI.
The greatest advantage to a digital world is that there are various communication means that allow us to stay connected efficiently and effectively. Using these methods appropriately will help strengthen your business relationships.