Communication skills are developed over an entire lifetime. These communication skills are especially important in business. This presentation will introduce and detail best practices in business writing and communication. Topics such as choosing a communication channel, oral and written communication, electronic communication, as well as professionalism and ethics will be presented.
Choosing the correct channel for your communication is probably the most important choice in business communication. Some channels are much better suited for certain types of messages. For example, terminating someone with an e-mail is definitely not the right thing to do. Oral communication is best for delivering motivational messages while written communication is best used for delivering complicated instructions and the like. In today’s business world, more and more communication is conducted through electronic means. This blurs the lines between time zones and geographical locations. Face to face communication should still be used for sensitive communications where it is vital that the information be conveyed and understood.
The goal of communication is to convey a message to the listener and have the listener understand its meaning. Being a skilled oral communicator is essential for the successful business communicator. Tone and inflection can change the entire meaning of the words spoken. Something meant to be sarcastic will sound serious if the tone and inflection is not correct. There are non-verbal components in oral communication—especially if the oral communicators can see each other. Nodding the head, rolling the eyes, and even a puzzled facial expression changes the meaning of the communication. It is important to not undermine the message being communicated with unintentional non-verbal cues. Pay attention to the communicator, lean forward, and maintain eye contact. Make sure to confirm the message by restating it to the sender.
Businesses use written communication for circumstances where the need to keep a record of the communication—such as in memorandums and business letters. However, it is important to exhibit good writing skills with all business writing. Electronic forms of communication such as e-mail and instant messaging are often archived for legal and administrative reasons. It is a best practice to always use proper grammar and spelling when composing any written communication. Use complete sentences and do not use text or chat abbreviations. These abbreviations do not have universal meanings; one abbreviation may be unknown or mean something very different to the message receiver.
Ethical communication is vital to the success of any organization. Every business is bound by numerous laws and regulations. Ethics go above and beyond what is legal and illegal. Certain communication may be legal but would still be considered unethical by the majority of people. People learn ethics at a young age. A good question to ask may be, “What would Mom do?” Ethical behavior is good for business. Consumers pay attention to the ethics of a business and will reward it for good ethics and punish it for bad ethics.
Professionalism in business begins with a professional appearance. Pride in one’s appearance will lead to pride in one’s performance. Many companies have dress codes—some are business dress and some are business casual. Some companies have a casual dress code. There are mixed opinions on whether companies with business dress codes outperform those with casual dress codes. Nevertheless, professionalism starts with a professional appearance and that leads to pride in performance. This is good for business.
The core of professionalism is professional conduct. The true professional exhibits leadership and keeps commitments. He or she adheres to principles and maintains high standards. If all business communicators conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism, the organization will excel.
Strive to become the consummate professional. The consummate professional is a problem-solver. He or she is a trusted colleague and advisor to junior personnel. The ultimate achievement for the consummate professional is to become a transformational leader. The transformation leader transforms the organization—leading by example and giving individualized consideration to subordinates.
Today’s business is global. Many companies sell their products and services around the world. Employees in disparate locations form virtual teams to collaborate on projects. Many organizations have follow-the-sun models for activities such as technical support and customer service. Nighttime in one part of the world is daytime somewhere else. Work never stops. Diverse teams make it easy for businesses to support local specialization. Products and services are adapted to local markets.
Being aware of cultural differences is an important communication skill. Communicating in high contextual countries such as Brazil, Japan, and Greece should be done differently than in low contextual countries such as the United States, Australia, and Denmark. People in high contextual countries value group messages and are usually better at reading non-verbal cues. People in low contextual countries value individualism and employ linear logic. It is important to consider these factors when communicating on a global basis.
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is good for business. A majority of consumers consider diversity and inclusion of a company when they decide whether to do business with that company. Having a diverse workforce brings more points of view to the organization and this helps solve problems and innovate. Diverse team members also bring knowledge of local cultures to the company. For example, when trying to develop a new product for sales in India, it would be advantageous to have some team members that are of Indian decent.
Practice makes perfect—or at least makes for improvement. One of the best tips to improve writing skills is to write often. Writing skills can go beyond business writing so using a pen and paper to practice writing makes sense. When contemplating a business message, use an outline to determine the main points. Use a dictionary and thesaurus to avoid repeating the same descriptive words. Guffey and Loewy (2011) describe the best practice of writing business messages as the 3X3 process. This process consists of prewriting, writing, and revising. These components will be detailed on the following slides. ReferencesGuffy, M.E., & Loewy, D. (2011). Business Communication: Process and Product (7th ed.). Independence, KY: Cengage Learning.
The first part of the writing process is prewriting. During this part of the process, one needs to determine of the purpose of the communication. Anticipating the audience is part also part of this first step. Thinking about what to write is perhaps the most important part of prewriting. Some say that prewriting should only consist of a small portion of the time needed to write the message. However, prewriting should take as long as it needs to take. Great planning leads to a great product.
The next step in the writing process is to begin writing. Do any research required—whether it be reviewing the available literature or conducting your own research with surveys and the like. Organize, and compose the rough draft. Write it all down; do not worry about revising during this phase of the process.
The final step of the writing process is revising. During this phase, revise the rough draft. Proofread carefully. Then, evaluate the final product. Revising should be the most time consuming phase of the writing process.
Almost every business in the world makes use of e-mail. Using e-mail effectively is crucial for business success. E-mail makes instant communication possible but it can get out of control quickly. Use a good subject line for every e-mail. Try not to add more than one subject to an e-mail. Make the subject line as descriptive as possible without being too long. Only a certain number of characters usually display in someone’s e-mail program so make sure the subject line is short and concise. Use short paragraphs in the body of the e-mail. People do not like to read through long blocks of text. Give the reader natural places to pause. Beware the forwards. Try to keep the recipient list to a minimum. Forwarding every e-mail to everyone in the department, etc. will make everyone less likely to pay attention to the important e-mail. Use business e-mail for business. Do not SPAM people with unsolicited messages that are not pertinent to the conducting of business. People’s inboxes are hard enough to keep organized with real business messages.
Other electronic communication channels include instant messaging, wikis, teleconferencing, and virtual meetings. Instant messaging is just that, instant. People can ask a quick question of another or let someone know of an upcoming meeting. Wikis are electronic bulletin boards where people can leave messages and add documents. Google Docs and Microsoft SharePoint are two implementations. With the proliferation of web cameras, teleconferencing has become available for almost everyone. Services like Google Hangouts allow any group of people with an Internet connection and a webcam to instantly teleconference with each other. This service is good for virtual meetings. Other services such as GoToMeeting and WebEx make team collaboration easy.
Countless people use social media. Businesses have discovered they can use social media to their advantage. Businesses conduct market research through their presences on social media. Customer service has increased through organizations monitoring social media for complaints and comments. Businesses advertise on social media. Through these efforts, many businesses have been able to institute continuous product and service improvement.
Business messages come in three varieties—positive, negative, and persuasive. The positive message is used for most business communication. The positive message uses a direct approach. Good news leads the message, because everyone likes good news, and details follow
Negative messages are a special kind of message that needs to be delivered with care. Negative messages usually convey bad news and require an indirect approach. Reasons and details lead the message—preparing the receiver for the bad news that follows. This approach is also used for hostile audiences.
The persuasive message is used to persuade people to do something or buy something. Businesses must be ethical when using persuasive messages. Examples of persuasive messages are press releases and sales literature.
Every business presentation begins with determining the purpose of the presentation. Giving presentation is not rocket science. Anyone can give an effective presentation with a few pointers and some practice.
When planning to give a business presentation, there are a few things to do before the presentation. Know how to use the resources—such as the laptop, projector, etc. Make sure access to the material is available. Have contingency plans in case of malfunctioning equipment and the like.
There are several pointers to follow during the presentation. Dress appropriately. Wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt in front of a group of attorneys is not a wise choice. Maintain eye contact with the audience. Be professional but not arrogant. Speak clearly and in a conversational manner. Do not read from the presentation.
After the presentation, allow for questions. Know the answers to the questions by anticipating common questions. Know where to find the answers to uncommon questions. Make sure to follow-up on the unanswered questions.
There are two main categories of business reports—informal and formal. Most reports fall into the informal category. Informal reports are usually distributed internally and are of a routine nature—such as status reports. Informal business reports use casual language and have optional formatting. The formal business report is not routine. This report is usually distributed to external entities. This type of report requires formal language and special formatting. The formal report can be much longer and more detailed than informal reports. A good example of a formal report is a corporation’s annual report to its stockholders.
A business plan is usually required to secure financing. The business plan is a living document that explains how the business will generate revenue and grow. The business plan has several sections including the executive summary and mission statement. It also contains descriptions of the business’s products and services and a market analysis. The United States Small Business Administration is an excellent place to start writing a business plan.
Business proposals can be informal or formal. An informal business proposal can be as short as a letter or short report. Most proposals are formal proposals. Proposals can be solicited or unsolicited. For example, the U.S. Government may need a problem solved or a product designed. The government would issue a request for proposal (RFP). Companies would submit proposals in reply. Unsolicited proposals can be generated when a business sees a problem that it thinks it can solve. The business proposal is a legal contract. Formal business reports can follow the initial business proposal. The formal business proposal contains sections for the background of the problem, the plan, staffing, budget, and authorization.
In conclusion, effective business communication is essential to the success of any organization. Communication skills are learned over a lifetime and are a key component of effective business communication. Selecting the correct communication channel is very important. Oral communication is good for messages where tone, inflection, and non-verbal cues are important to the receiver. Written communication is better for more detailed or complex messages or when a permanent record is required. Electronic messages have blurred the lines of time and geography. Ethics is of vital concern for all business communication. Diversity and inclusion is beneficial to any organization. Professionalism in the workplace increases employee performance. Reports, plans, and proposals are forms of written communication used extensively by business.
Communication is an art. These best practices are just that—practices. They are not absolutes. If something works better in a certain situation, by all means, use it. Many textbooks dismiss the business communicator’s intuition in favor of a more analytical and linear approach. Some of the world’s best leaders use intuition every day. Use intuition if it works. All communication with humans is subject to human psychology. Understand human psychology and effective communication will be second nature.
Best Practices in Business Writing and Communication
Best Practices in Business Writing
• Choose Correct Channel for Your Message
– Face to Face
• Convey Message to Listener
• Tone and Inflection
• Non-Verbal Components
• Use Proper Grammar and Spelling
– No Text or Chat Abbreviations
– Use Complete Sentences
• Beyond Legal
• What Would Your Mom Do?
• Ethical Behavior is Good for Business
• Exhibit Leadership
• Keep Commitments
• Adhere to Principles
• Maintain High Standards
The Consummate Professional
• Transformational Leader
• Trusted Colleague and Advisor
Business is Global
• Follow-the-Sun Model
• Virtual Teams
• Local Specialization
• High Contextual Cultures
• Low Contextual Cultures
Diversity and Inclusion
Good for Business
• More Points of View
• Knowledge of Local Cultures
Pen and paper
3 x 3 Process
(Guffy & Loewy, 2011)
• Determine the Purpose
• Think About It
• Anticipate the Audience
Write it ALL Down
Before the Presentation
• Know How to Use the Resources
• Make Sure Access is Available
• Have Contingency Plans
During the Presentation
Maintain Eye Contact
Be Professional but Not Arrogant
Speak in a Conversational Manner
Do Not Read from the Presentation
After the Presentation
Allow for Questions
Know the Answers to Questions
Know Where to Find the Answers
Follow-up on Unanswered Questions
Informal Business Reports
• Casual Language
• Optional Formatting
Formal Business Reports
• Not Routine
• Formal Language
• Special Formatting