Understanding the Principles of Business Communication
Selecting the Medium E-mail Instant Messages Memos Letters Faxes Telephone and Conference Calls Voice-Mail Messages Face-to-Face Meetings Videoconferences Web Communication
E-mail A primary medium to communicate messages and share electronic files. Can be easily forwarded, so review carefully before clicking the Send button. Keep in mind that e-mail (and IMs) can be intercepted by someone other than the intended recipient and that even a deleted message has more than likely already been backed-up on a company or school server somewhere. Companies and schools can be compelled to provide files and messages in a court of law.
Instant Messages A text-based communication medium that fills a niche between telephone calls and email messages. Allows for real-time communication and the ability to transfer text along with other files.
Memos Usually printed on company stationary or attached to an email message. Used a lot in manufacturing or service industries, where employees do not have easy access to email. Instruct Employees Announce Policies Report Results Disseminate Information Delegate Responsibilities
Letters Most appropriate for initial contacts with business associates or customers, as well as for other official business communication outside a company or organization. Stationery with an organization’s printed letterhead and the writer’s handwritten signature communicates formality, respect, and authority.
Faxes (facsimile transmission) Most useful when speed is essential and when graphic information—a drawing or signed contract, for ex.—must be viewed in its original form. Fax machines are usually in the central hub of an office, so be careful what you send or receive.
Telephone and Conference Calls Necessary for exchanges requiring substantial interaction and the need for participants to interpret each other’s tone of voice. Useful for discussing sensitive issues and quickly resolving misunderstandings. Conference calls are a less expensive alternative to face-to-face meetings that would require participants to travel to a central meeting place. Need to consider time zones when setting up conference calls.
Voice-Mail Messages Anticipate what you are going to say before you make the call. Assume you are not going to talk to the person you are trying to reach, so you have a plan. Must leave name, phone number, date and time of call (don’t assume their phone stores/displays that info).
Face-to-Face Meetings Most appropriate for initial or early contacts with business associates and customers with whom you plan to have a long-term relationship with. Best medium for exchanges in which a serious problem needs to be resolved. Productive meetings happen when all participants come prepared on the subject (sending an agenda prior to meeting is a good idea).
Videoconferences Useful for meetings where travel is impractical or too expensive. Has advantage over conference calls, because of ability to see participants and share files simultaneously. Works best with participants comfortable in front of a camera.
Web Communication A public Internet or company intranet Web site is ideal for posting announcements and policies, as well as for making available or exchanging documents and files with others. Can also be a place where ideas are developed: discussion boards, blogs, and wikis.
Observing NetiquetteBack to email and IM for a sec. Review your organization’s policy regarding the appropriate use of email. Maintain a high level of professionalism in your use of email. Don’t forward jokes or spam, discuss office gossip, or use biased language. Don’t send flames (emails that contain abusive, obscene, or derogatory language) to attack someone. Do not use an email account with a clever or hobby-related address (firstname.lastname@example.org); email addresses based on your last name are more professional (email@example.com).
Observing NetiquetteBack to email and IM for a sec. Provide a subject line that describes the topic and focus of your message to help recipients manage their email. When forwarding messages, revise the subject line to reflect the current content and delete irrelevant previous text, based on your purpose and content. Use the “cc” (courtesy copy) and “bcc” (blind courtesy copy) address lines thoughtfully and consider your organization’s practices or protocol.
Observing NetiquetteBack to email and IM for a sec. Include a cover (or transmittal) message for all email messages with attachments (“Attached is a copy of the TeraTech report for your review…”). Emails with attachments and no messages may be deleted or routed to a “spam” or “junk mail” folder. Send a “courtesy response” informing someone when you need a few days or longer to reply to a request. DO NOT WRITE IN ALL-UPPERCASE LETTERS, or in all lower-case letters.
Observing NetiquetteBack to email and IM for a sec. Avoid email abbreviations (BTW for by the way, for example) often used in personal email, chat rooms, instant messaging. Do not use emoticons for business and professional email. Always sign the email or use a signature block, or do both. Stay on top of your virus-scanning software, so you don’t send a virus in an email attachment.
A writer has to first consider the context—audience and objective—of the communication before selecting the appropriate medium. Let’s take a look at the following scenarios and decide which of the following should be used: a written message (letter, memo, fax, IM), a telephone call, a face-to-face meeting, or some combination of these.
Pat Green is a real estate agent representing Ruth and Peter Kellogg. With her help, the Kelloggs are very close to an agreement to sell their house to Scott and Rhonda Smith, who are represented by Jon Walker, an agent from another real estate office. Jon goes out of town on an emergency and asks someone from his office to work with the Smiths. Scott doesn't like the replacement agent and so phones Pat, leaving a voice message saying he wants to negotiate with her directly. He doesn't know that buyers and sellers should not communicate with each other's agents; if Pat returns Scott’s call she can endanger her real estate license. However, time is of the essence: If she ignores the message, she could lose the sale. Since Pat may not contact Scott, what channels should she use to quickly and tactfully inform him that he must negotiate through the replacement agent?
Cindy is the assistant manager of a small company that creates commercial espresso machines and is slowly introducing its products to the German market. The illustrated German-language installation instructions are out of stock but the PDF files have been sent to the printer. One day a client from a famous bistro in Bonn calls about an installation problem; he's rather frantic and hard to understand. Cindy overhears the technical support representative as he tries to help the customer and is dismayed that he is giving technical information in English, repeating himself each time more slowly and in louder tones. Cindy realizes there's a serious lack of communication going on and she doesn't want to lose a big client; however, the company’s only German-speaking representative won’t be available to call the client for three hours. Considering the media available to her, how can Cindy help the customer in the meantime?
Mike sells insurance in a state that hasn't been hit by a hurricane in over 50 years. He has been writing home and hurricane policies for Steve and Marie Garcia, who have been good friends and loyal clients for over ten years. One August day, a Category 3 hurricane hits the Garcia’s town. TheGarcias experience only minor roof damage from the wind and rain, but when the levy breaks in a nearby town, over six inches of moving water sweeps through the house, destroying carpeting, furniture, and electrical appliances. The head of Steve's insurance company tells Steve that the company won't pay to fix the damages because theGarcias were covered for hurricane damage, not flood damage. How should Steve communicate this bad news?
Effective and Efficient Correspondence Weak It has been decided that the office will be open the day after Thanksgiving. “It has been decided” sounds impersonal. It also communicates an authoritative tone, yet in a passive voice… Improved The office will be open the day after Thanksgiving. Simple and to the point, but still lacking information. Even Better Because we must meet the December 15 deadline for submitting the Bradley Foundation proposal, the office will be open the day after Thanksgiving. The best choice, because it suggests that there is a good reason for the decision and that employees are part of the decision making process (at least those who are working on the proposal).
Effective and Efficient Correspondence To produce a clear message—one that emphasizes your main points and adequately develops them—be as specific as possible. Vague Be more careful on the loading dock. Developed To prevent accidents on the loading dock, follow these procedures: X Y z
Effective and Efficient Correspondence Goodwill and the “You” Viewpoint Write concisely, but do not be so blunt that you risk losing the reader’s goodwill. Weak We must receive the sales receipt before we can process a refund. Improved Please mail or fax the sales receipt so that we can process your refund. Effective So that you can receive your refund promptly, please mail or fax the sales receipt.
Effective and Efficient Correspondence Using Tone to Build Goodwill Be respectful, not demanding. Demanding: Submit your answer in one week. Respectful: I would appreciate your answer within one week. Be modest, not arrogant. Arrogant: My attached report is thorough, and I’m sure that it will be essential. Modest: The attached report contains details of the refinancing options that I hope you will find useful.
Effective and Efficient Correspondence Using Tone to Build Goodwill Be polite, not sarcastic. Sarcastic: I just now received the shipment we ordered six months ago. I’m sending it back—we can’t use it now. Thanks a lot! Polite: I am returning the shipment we ordered on March 12. Unfortunately, it arrived too late for us to be able to use it. Be positive and tactful, not negative and condescending. Negative: Your complaint about our prices is way off target. Our prices are definitely not any higher than those of our competitors. Tactful: Thank you for your suggestion concerning our prices. We believe, however, that our prices are comparable to or lower than those or our competitors.