From spelling mistakes to over complicated and confusing rambling, poor business communication is rife and unprofessional – but easily avoided!
As getting something so pivotal so critically wrong could spell damage and disaster for individuals, departments and on occasion entire firms and companies, the need to recognise and right the wrongs of the written world of work is ever-present. So repent and pay heed to these seven sins, lest you find yourself in business communications hell.
Sin 1. Thou shalt not go on, and on and on
Like the deadly sin of gluttony, demanding too much and consuming entire pages of space with word-hungry demands, email attachments or other information is bad for your professional health. Not only is it an unnecessary drain of time and effort, but it also alienates readers and could cause important information to be skipped, damaging professional relationships in the process.
Whatever you’re saying, when it comes to business writing and communication keep it simple. State requests clearly, courteously and use as little of your recipient’s time as possible. Remember, your contacts are busy as well. You don’t want them dreading your calls or emails. Over-long, unclear reams of text are likely to be instantly ignored and discarded – especially with initial communications, and as you’re cultivating a professional relationship you will most likely have demands made of you too in the future – don’t make a rod for your own back!
Sin 2. Thou shalt not overcomplicate or abbreviate
Though it’s good to take pride in your work, take too much and you’ll start to look pretentious. Vocabulary pride is another deadly sin.
Excessively over exaggerating and declaring your behest through an extravagantly intricate broadcast (or overcomplicating your communications requests) is unnecessary and makes you difficult to understand. Plus it makes you sound as though you’ve eaten a thesaurus.
Equally, using complicated industry-specific jargon, internal references or too many acronyms is frankly, T.MI. (too much information!). References like this should not be used unless you’re absolutely sure your target will understand them. The same goes for using archaic, old-fashioned words. If you are writing an email there’s no need to write differently to modern speech as long as you are polite, business like, and (at least until you have established a working relationship) formal. Sounding as though you’ve stepped out of 1796 won’t impress your colleagues or contacts – it just makes life harder!
Sin 3. Thou shalt not be vague
Efficiency is key in business communications. You want to use up as little time and effort for as maximum a result as possible. To do this, keep communications structured, clear and obvious. Vague or confusing communications occur frequently (as seen above) but can be avoided:
- Structure your work – Stating your main point (what you would put in a conclusion) first can help to display demands simply. Don’t put too many tasks into one message, and always keep email headers as explanatory and obvious as possible: “Task deadline Monday PM” rather than “Monday” for example.
- Keep things short. But not too short! – Being brief is great, but it’s possible to go too far! Just sending someone the word ‘Friday’ may be a reminder for him or her to complete a task – but will they know that? Stick to structure and explanation unless you’re absolutely sure.
- Don’t get carried away – Linking to the sin of over-written messages, veering off on a tangent or padding just overcomplicates the issue and bores the reader.
- Use an active rather than a passive voice and assert yourself! – Involving yourself in sentences (active voice) rather than leaving them abstract (passive) helps anchor meaning, impact and personalisation to demands. Saying; “The company will review the report,” is not as effective as stating “I will review the report,” – and it gives you well-deserved credit! You should also assert yourself and make demands or deadlines obvious. It may sound demanding, but it helps people judge exact timeframes and prioritise, or request extensions if needed.
Sin 4. Not honouring thy target audience.
Communications rely on messages being understood, so keeping your reader and audience in mind when writing is crucial.
Before you begin, think about who your reader is and why you are contacting them. Is it someone you know, such as a colleague, or an outside partner/ client? Have you already built up a rapport with them? Considering this will help you to judge tone and style. If you’ve met them in person you may be able to be slightly less formal, but should still keep business communications at a professional level – at least until you know them better. After a relationship has been established, simple communications may not need to be so stuffy, though serious requests should remain business-like.
Again, be specific and don’t use overcomplicated terms, industry jargon or numerous acronyms unless you are absolutely sure they will be understood. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own knowledge and industry, so taking that step back to consider outside communications from a your reader’s perspective can prevent you alienating them or making them feel stupid.
Sin 5. Thou shalt not use slang to impress
Just as redundant over-formal languagecan mask messages, too many jokes, anecdotes, humour, sarcasm, or clichés in a business message can prevent you from being taken seriously and can been seen as inappropriate.
Being overly casual, though it may seem more reader-appealing, could offend some recipients as not all jokes are taken the same way, and some may find a lack of professionalism very distasteful. A casual attitude may also detract from the importance of your message. Try instead to balance your writing: not too formal, but not too free!
Sin 6. Showing thy lack of grammatical skill
It’s a basic consideration, but grammar and spelling can impact the way an entire piece is interpreted and judged. Writing in a business situation, the standard of your writing skills will reflect back both on you and the wider company, so it’s important to get it right! Common sins include:
- Spelling and grammatical errors – These are vary wildly, from simple grammatical errors (your, you’re, there, their, they’re) to spelling mistakes and typos. Always check you’ve used the right word for the situation, and double check the spelling of names especially.
- Misplaced punctuation – Should you use a colon or a semi-colon? Have you overcapitalised your message? Should you remove some of the twenty exclamation marks you’ve placed in the introduction!? Under the umbrella of punctuation correction, bear in mind that full stops can often be used rather than commas for added simplicity: ‘Thank you for making those changes, however there are a few things I’d like to add,” can be “Thank you for those changes. However there are a few things I would like to add,”
- Treating the company as a plural – Companies should be single entities, so when referencing the name, pretend the company is a person: ‘Example Corps. is going to,’ rather than ‘Example Corps. are going to,’
- Over-thankfulness – As long as you are courteous, you should not have to keep thanking your reader throughout the message – unless you actually have something specific to thank them for. Mix up your sign-offs to show a little personality and rid your messages of a robotic quality – “Have a great weekend, see you soon, good to hear from you, I look forward to hearing from you etc,”
Sin 7. Ignoring thy proofreading tasks
It may be the last stage of business communication, but this sin, the sin of sloth or proofreading laziness, can undo all your hard work and be the most damaging.
Proofreading work before sending can reveal easily missed errors and typos, which may question your competency or attention to detail, and play a pivotal part in getting your business request granted or rejected.
Always double check spelling, grammar and word use, ensuring all names are spelt right and facts are correct. Keep presentation and layout in mind (such as using clear fonts and sizes, and don’t be afraid to ask a colleague for their opinion. A second pair of eyes will always help, especially if you’re sending something important!
Alastair is a freelance writer and has supplied this article on behalf of Communicaid a communications skills consultancy which provides courses for business writing