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Professional Communication: The Dos and Don’ts

It’s a changing world. Anyone over 25 can attest to how much major social change can occur in a very short period of time. This is extremely true for communication. The nerds here at Alpha Moose revel in the beautifully dynamic nature of words and language; in just one generation, words can fall into obscurity or rise up out of slang. Words can be contracted or changed to form whole new expressions. How exciting!

But for the layman trying to navigate today’s multi-platform messaging setup, it can be difficult to know what to say and when. Is “BTW” acceptable in inter-office emails? What about chats? Do I need to include all the salutations and courtesies when we’re knees-deep in an email conversation?

Fear not! Alpha Moose is here to provide a quick guide for professional, business communication.

Emails and Memos

Short of website copy or company-produced material, these are the most professional methods of communication in a workplace. It’s where most business happens now and it’s pivotal for office relationships. As such, it should be treated with respect and written with professionalism. Each profession is slightly different in what may be expected, but rely on these basic guidelines:

  • Avoid slang, outright jokes, or flippant content.

  • Use salutations (such as “Good morning”) and courtesies (such as asking how someone is doing).

  • Use complete sentences and correct grammar. Proofread.

  • Keep it about work and avoid extensive personal conversation.

  • No gossip or bashing of others – especially clients!

  • Avoid passive-aggressive comments or excessive emotional writing.

#1 Rule: Write your email or memo as though it were going to accidentally fall into the client’s hands. If you have a slang-filled, casual email mostly talking about your personal life or even bashing the customer, would that client be impressed? Most likely not. If every time you write professionally and courteously and proofread, then soon it’ll become a habit and the one day when your email falls into the wrong hands (you type the wrong email, you hit reply all, you accidentally send to the client instead, you forward the chain to someone else not thinking about previous emails in the chain, etc.), you won’t have anything to worry about.

Email Threads

You and Maria have been going back and forth about this project all day, and your Gmail accordion has about a dozen compressed emails. You know Maria; she knows you. Your kids had a play date last week. Do you really need to put “Dear Maria,” and “Regards,” at the beginning and end of every email?

No, you don’t.

Being professional in this case can hurt your work life more than help it. It’s important to maintain those positive relationships and not be a stick in the mud all the time. Does that mean, however, that when Maria starts emailing you in the same thread asking about your interest in another play date, you have to respond in the same thread – then getting into a whole conversation about it? No! Switch to text or chat for a more casual conversation separate from work. In your work email thread, you can even respond with, “Sounds good, Maria. I’ll text you about it. How about those specs for the beta test?” If you separately text or chat about the play date right away, she’ll know you’re not blowing her off, but you’ll keep the first, work conversation professional.

There are a million different scenarios, but the rule remains the same: act like your conversation is going to be read by your boss or a client. A reasonable human would allow some break in formality when you’re working with a close colleague, but they wouldn’t allow a collapse into a personal conversation or shirking of duties.

Also, don’t start an email relationship with a colleague with informal language. It’s always best for their first impression of you to be that you’re very professional. If they’re another good employee with a future there, that will only impress them. Once you hit the Maria situation or something like it, you can relax the rules within reason.

Company Chat

Some companies allow their employees to communicate via chat. This method is usually reserved for more informal conversations and can be a nice outlet for the constant professionalism expected of most workers today. Use slang and abbreviations here with wild abandon! Talk about the weekend or your desperate need for a drink! Enjoy, but remember that all company chats are accessible and often monitored by your supervisors (even Google Hangouts and other email chats). So again, use common sense – reasonable humans would accept “btw” or maybe even “wtf” here, depending on your workplace, but you shouldn’t be bashing your supervisor or spending your entire day chatting.

Personal Chat or Text

This is really where the most personal conversations should be. If you’re talking negatively about anything to do with work, keep it on your personal device and – even better – do it on your personal time. As much as we want to feel 100% comfortable expressing ourselves, it’s also still important to remember that user error can create a problem. That one text about your supervisor could go…. to your supervisor. It only takes one mistake to ruin a job. Do you like to vent? Maybe avoid putting anything like that in writing at all. Do you like to sing the praises of your company! Go right ahead.

What if you’re using your personal device for work? If you’re using a work-related service, like a particular mail service or website, remember that the information you’re sending on your phone is still passing through work conduits and you have to again act like it might be monitored by your boss. If you’re emailing through your phone, you should absolutely still be following the rules for emails and memos. Just texting with a client? Like chat, text is considered much less formal, but you’re still on the job and representing your company. Be professional and courteous. You might not always need to use complete sentences, but avoid hip abbreviations. A good rule here is to be one step more professional than your client; they’ll be impressed but not turned off.

Every workplace, supervisor, and client has slightly different expectations, but it’s always better to err on the side of professionalism and caution. It’s much easier to relax your standards later, when appropriate, than it is to rebuild your reputation after you’ve already come across as lazy and unprofessional. Want a professionalism check? Get Alpha Moose to edit your emails, memos, or other documentation for professionalism as well as grammar.

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