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    Etiquette at work

    To communicate effectively, follow the Four P’s

    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.

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    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