Business communications are not really taught anymore. Were they ever? With social media and an air of informality, things are on the slide. Thus, the below are points I drive home to my business students each semester at the George Washington University. See the first post on this topic.
Lesson #4. Don’t default to, “Can we have a meeting/call?”
In my Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership class, mentors are assigned to students. These are busy, busy, busy women. So, I tell the students, “You want to meet with someone, get to know them. DON’T be lazy and default to the email where you say, ‘Can we have a meeting?’ This is a credibility sinker.” Why, they ask? “Because it makes you look junior varsity,” I tell them. “You have just let them know that you either a) Have no idea what it is to be maniacally busy or b) Don’t care.”
Lesson #5. Assume your audience has the attention span of a gnat
With complicated communications, I get creative. I will start my emails with “In this email” and bullets of what is below. I will even, by each bullet, say what is an “FYI” versus a “requires action.” Of course of course of course you MUST use the subject line of an email very strategically. I will often say their name, action required, and the topic in the subject. There CAN BE NO AMOUNT of communication spoonfeeding that is too much.
Lesson #6. Don’t be a user
What can YOU do for the person of which you’re asking something. I like to end meetings with, “How can I support you and your major initiatives? ” As you move up the chain and seek counsel of higher-ups, the assumption is THEY will be helping YOU. How refreshing to turn the tables and ask how you can help them? Whether it’s keeping an eye out for an intern or giving a mini Twitter lesson, you’re never to young to offer help.
Lesson #7. Honor the middleman/middlewoman
Did someone “broker” the deal and get you in touch? Well follow up with them. I tend to keep an email folder called “introductions” so I can circle back with these connectors (who make the world go round, by the way) and tell them what happened as a result of their generous effort.
Lesson #8. Start with the formal
I fly in between academic and business communities. When I worked in the aging area, there were a lot of doctors. You need to know the rules of the industry and – within that – the preference of the person with whom you’re communicating.
You never want to be this person:
When what you need to be is this person:
How, and an example: If it’s a formal industry, or you’re not sure, just ask. Say, “How do you prefer to be addressed?” I ask this all the time of deans and doctors. I got yelled at (via email) by a researcher in the aging area for not addressing her with “Dr.” I had been introduced to her by a fellow member on the Alzheimer’s Association board on which I served, and defaulted to the informal (her first name). Well, this was COMPLETELY unacceptable and she let me know it. So, I always default to the formal until you know you can be informal.
Example 2: English is a dominant business language. Yet, anyone who speaks a foreign romance language knows there is a formal tense and, you always start with that. The person then tells you it’s okay to use the familiar (2nd person). We don’t have this in the U.S. Without going for the full-on Emily Post, I suggest we take some notes from more established cultures before we go too far in to the land of “c u ltr” and “ROTFL.”
PARTING THOUGHT: Is it “rude” or “getting things done”?
We capitalists love storming the castle and shaking things up. So, before I seem too prissy with my communication advice, I should say: Don’t be so constrained by rules that you don’t get anything done. What you’re trying to do is BUILD a RELATIONSHIP. Remember, it’s about the OTHER person and their preferences in building the RELATIONSHIP versus the arbitrary enforcing of rules.
Back to basics? Here is a great grammar bootcamp (as you can see from the title, I believe infinitives can be split)
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