When I teach communications etiquette, I always start with the Four P’s, the bedrock of positive, relationship-building communications.
Public versus private. Think not only about what you want to communicate, but how you are going to do it. For instance, I once overheard a man’s cellphone conversation while on a train. The person he was talking to apparently kept trying to discuss the qualifications of a candidate for a job. To his credit, the person on the train refused to discuss the issue: “I can’t talk about it right now, I’m on the train.”
Also, remember the Bulletin Board Rule: If you can’t post it on a bulletin board for anyone to read, then don’t e-mail it, tweet it, blog it, instant-message it, or leave it on a voice mail.
Proofread. Excusing your errors by putting a note at the end of a text saying “Please excuse typos; this was written on my phone” does not remove the impression that you are careless, it just reinforces it. Be particularly careful in today’s digital world because auto-correct can make you look foolish, and spell-check is no guarantee that everything is correct.
It’s particularly important to spell people’s names correctly. Before you write to someone for the first time, call the person’s office and double-check the spelling of his or her name. Getting it right is expected; getting it wrong leaves you with egg on your face.
Pronunciation. Mispronouncing words can make you look like you don’t know what you are talking about. Mispronouncing a person’s name can be a fatal error, especially in a job interview or meeting a new client. Find out how to pronounce a person’s name ahead of time. Doing so will ensure your meeting will start off on a positive, professional note.
Patience. Take your time when communicating, especially when replying. If you’re feeling a little frustrated, wait five minutes before returning a call so the frustration you feel subsides and isn’t heard in your tone of voice. When using digital communications, try the “send later” or “draft” button. Wait a few minutes and then reread your message. Ask a colleague to read it to be sure of its tone. Or, go into a quiet, private room and read your message out loud. You’ll hear the tone in your writing.
Remember, an ounce of prevention . . .E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.