Business Communication (2019)
Communication can make or break business relationships, careers, and even companies. Effective communication provides you with opportunities to expand networks, raise profiles, showcase skills, and engender confidence. Despite all these benefits, developing good communication skills is still an intimidating prospect for many.
Conversation, especially spontaneous, unscripted small talk, is particularly problematic. Millennials would rather do anything than engage in simple conversation, finding it superficial, boring, pointless, and altogether too much work. Chatting, unless it’s via electronic devices, is just not their thing.
Truth be told, older generations are not too crazy about small talk either. But it’s very important, because substantive conversations, crucial to professional success, emerge from small talk.
Communicate everything you can to your partners. The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there is no stopping them. Listen to everyone in your company.
And figure out ways to get them talking. To push responsibility down within your organization, and to force good ideas to bubble up within it, you must listen to what your associates are trying to tell you.
Opportunities for conversation are everywhere, and the professionally savvy take advantage of as many as possible as often as possible. The chances to promote one’s personal brand through conversation are endless: on public transportation, while waiting in line for coffee, walking down a hallway, or riding an elevator, and at business meetings, lunches, dinners, events, parties, or conferences.
The ability to read and send nonverbal cues is critical in the professional arena. In face-to-face interactions, studies tell us that approximately 60 percent of communication is nonverbal, 30 percent is the tone of voice, and only 10 percent is the words we say.
Nonverbal communication governs how we think about ourselves, according to Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School.
In her TED talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” she says, “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviors, our behaviors change our outcomes.”
Conversely, we would avoid the appearance of low power by refraining from looking down, having our hands in our pockets, crossing our arms and legs, or slouching.
Ms. Cuddy recommends that we not only “fake it ’til we make it” with our nonverbal communication, but fake it until we actually become as strong and confident as our body language conveys.
There is not complete agreement that nonverbal communication changes minds, but there is virtually universal agreement that nonverbal communication affects the perceptions others have of us.
Nonverbal communication can be obvious or subtle. Body language experts Patryk and Kasia Wesolowski say people convey unconscious emotions through “micro-expressions” and that true feeling can be transmitted in as little as half a second.
Through nonverbal cues, we express feelings, disseminate information, reinforce messages, provide feedback, and exert control. We encode the information we send and decode the information sent back to us through body language.
In the U.S., it is generally agreed that hands clasped behind the back show confidence, clenched fists show the firmness of resolve, a hand on the heart indicates a desire to be believed, and finger-pointing conveys aggressiveness or arrogance. Rubbing one's hands together equal anticipation, steepling fingers shows confidence, and hands in pockets indicate mistrust or reluctance.
Hands folded in front indicate vulnerability, arms across the chest show the person feels threatened and talking with palms open suggests honesty. Smiles, laughter, and frequent eye contact signal friendliness and courteousness, head nodding shows empathy, and eye contact transmits credibility.
Note that nonverbal communication has different meanings around the world. Among the Japanese, smiles may indicate embarrassment, confusion, or discomfort.
The A-okay sign means a variety of things in different countries—virtually none of them good. Unless we make a point to understand the meanings of nonverbal communication in other cultures, it is better to refrain from gesturing among international colleagues and clients.
Striking up a pleasant conversation is easier and less threatening if we first learn how to read others’ nonverbal cues. It enables us to know when to approach others, when to keep talking and when to let others talk, how others are responding emotionally to what we’re saying, and when to end conversations.
If we see that someone is otherwise engaged in conversation, concentrating on a task, reading, eating, or praying, it’s clearly not a good time to begin a conversation. However, if they smile, make eye contact, stand, nod their heads, look interested, or speak, they are conveying that they are open to exchange.
READ THE CUES
An If someone doesn’t want to talk, she will look away, frown, sigh, crossing her arms, offer a quick furtive smile, keep her eyes on her device, or put up a physical barrier.
An If someone is bored, he will look around the room, check his phone, fidget, slouch, stand at an angle, avoid eye contact, sigh, roll his eyes, or have a vacant look.
An If someone is angry, she will narrow her eyes, lower her chin, purse her lips, raise a corner of her mouth, place her hands on her hips, glare, or point or wag a finger.
How close we stand to others is another means of nonverbal communication that is culture-specific. Americans feel most comfortable sitting or standing at an arm’s length, but this distance would be considered too far apart among Middle Easterners and South Americans and too close among the Japanese.
According to the life skills website, the skills you need. com, Westerners recognize four categories of distance: intimate, personal, social, and public. When you violate those norms, knowingly or not, you make others feel uncomfortable.
KNOW THE DISTANCES
An Intimate distance ranges from touching to about 1.5 feet. This distance is reserved for close personal relationships, where eye contact and other nonverbal cues are not necessarily critical. This distance is too close for professional interactions as most will feel their space is being violated.
A Personal distance is somewhere between 1.5 feet and 3.8 feet. This distance is good for shaking hands or conversing with a friend or colleague. Depending upon the relationship, people may start at a lesser distance and move farther apart after introductions have been made. They may also move closer as the conversation progresses. This distance allows for observation of important nonverbal cues.
A Social or professional distance is anywhere from 3.8 to 11 feet. In this setting, the situation determines the distance at which to position yourself. If working on a project, you would be at the closer end of the range. If presenting at a meeting, the farther end is more appropriate.
A Public distance of 11 to 14 feet is used mainly by public speakers. At this distance, the subtlety of facial expressions is lost, which is why many public speakers rely on expansive gestures to underscore their messages. In conversation, note how far others stand from you.
If you lessen or increase the space they will unconsciously move until their comfort level is restored. If you aren’t sure how close to stand to someone, keep to the closer end of the social/professional distance range.
The Eyes Have It
Teammates are afraid to interrupt her when she is on the phone or computer, and she is always on one or the other. This is a problem because they need to work together as a team.
When it looks like we are not listening, relationships may be at risk. We always need to decide what is more important at a given moment: connecting with the person in front of us or connecting with others virtually.
When we make eye contact with others, we not only show respect and attention, we connect, build trust, and bond. Doctors, attorneys, and coaches use it to comfort, persuade, influence, encourage, and control. Without eye contact, they could not effectively do their jobs.
Eye contact does not come easily for everyone. Some find it threatening and others just find it uncomfortable. But in the U.S. and many other cultures, making eye contact is critical.
Keep eyes up. Do not look at other parts of the body. Gazes should be reflective of professional, not personal or intimate, relationships.
Make direct eye contact. Hold someone’s eyes for about five to seven seconds in conversation, look away for a few seconds, and then look back. He will know you are engaged without feeling under a microscope. If direct eye contact feels intimidating, look at the bridge of someone’s nose or lower forehead.
An Aim for eye contact 50 percent of the time. It can be more when listening to and less when speaking. Too much eye contact comes across as aggressive and too little, timid.
A Practice, practice, practice! Start with comfortable relationships, gradually moving on to acquaintances, passersby, cashiers, and wait staff. TV newscasters and even pets provide great opportunities to become more comfortable in making eye contact.
The Good Conversationalist
Good conversationalists are polite. They know how to approach and join existing conversation groups. They know how to make smooth introductions and include everyone in conversations. They arm themselves with appropriate topics and steer clear of any that might be divisive or offensive.
Good conversationalists know how to make seamless transitions from one topic to another, when to interject humor, and how to handle tricky situations such as conversational lulls or mistakes.
They are good listeners and show interest in others. They do not argue, interrupt, or correct. Finally, good conversationalists know when it’s time to leave a conversation group and gracefully move on.
THE COMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONALIST
A Be polite! Focus on others, not on your electronic device. Be present at the moment; don’t look around to see who might be more important or interesting to talk to.
Join the group. It’s always easier when someone invites you into a conversation group, but feel comfortable joining one on your own. Never stand by yourself looking bored or texting.
Catch someone’s eye, smile, extend your hand, and say, “Hello, I’m Joan Smith.” Do not apologize for approaching a person or group at an event to which you were invited. It’s your job!
A Make introductions. A good conversationalist is not shy about introducing herself. When making your introduction, offer a genuine smile, a warm, dry hand, full eye contact, and say your first and last name.
In the social arena, age and gender determine the order of the introduction. Men are traditionally introduced to women and younger persons to older persons.
This order is followed because a client of any level outranks fellow employees of any level, even bosses and company presidents. After all, without clients, there are no companies!
Include everyone. Make eye contact with everyone, even those who are not talking. They will feel part of the group and may be encouraged to join in. Ask for their opinions about the topic at hand or what brought them to this event.
Be prepared. An experienced conversationalist knows the few seconds after an introduction can be awkward. Be ready with conversation topics to smooth the transition.
A Cover up mistakes. Ignore the mistake if you can: if you can’t, downplay it. Say, “I do that all the time!” The person who made the mistake will be grateful, and you can immediately move on.
If you made the mistake and it goes unnoticed, keep it that way. Otherwise, apologize or laugh it off and let it go.
Squelch inappropriate remarks or topics. Tricky situations need someone to take control and smooth things over without causing embarrassment for the person who introduced the topic or for others in the group. If possible, pretend you didn’t hear the comment, and change the subject.
If necessary, be more direct, and say, “Can we talk about something else?” or “I’m sorry, I don’t agree,” or “I don’t think that’s appropriate.” Then move on to a new subject—or a new conversation group.
Know how to move on. Never monopolize others. The actual length of time you are in a conversation depends upon what you are talking about and with whom, but generally, be prepared to move on after about five to seven minutes.
Say, “It was lovely speaking with you,” or “Enjoy the evening,” or “I hope we meet again!” Better to have ended a conversation with someone wishing it had lasted longer than having him regret he had to talk to you for so long!
The road to becoming a good conversationalist is bound to include some speed bumps. Keep trying. Most people won’t even notice if you get a name wrong or mispronounce words. They’ll be too concerned with the impressions they are making upon you!
The Power of Speech
The way you say something is far more important than the words themselves. The tone of voice conveys confidence, enthusiasm, respect, and interest, or the lack thereof.
Pay attention to the delivery of your messages, because they can be easily misinterpreted and tarnish your brand in the process. Speaking patterns matter, too. Are you a high talker?
A low talker? A fast, slow, loud, or close talker? Do you wander from the point or supply unnecessary detail and take too long to finish what you are saying? If you have ever gotten feedback about your speech, consider it a gift and take it seriously.
Keep in mind that it’s possible you’re getting feedback without realizing it. Do others often ask you to slow down, speak up, or repeat what you’ve said?
Do they sometimes finish your sentences or supply words? Are you ever asked to lower your voice, either verbally or with a “keep it down” gesture? These are signals that indicate you may want to work on your speech.
Speaking too softly can make you come across as timid or unsure of your message. Speaking too loudly can make you seem aggressive.
A very rapid rate of speech may indicate to others nervousness, overexcitement, or impatience. Taking too long to make a point may come across as someone who likes to hear himself talk.
Any of these speech patterns may annoy, frustrate, or cause concern to others. As such, it makes sense to try and modify them. Some characteristics are easier to change than others. But since strong communication skills are important for success, improvements are worth the effort.
A Speak louder. Think about what you want to say before you say it! Breathe from the diaphragm, and speak at an even, measured pace. Practice by reading aloud, and ask for feedback. Tune in to nonverbal cues. If others appear to be straining to hear, raise your voice, but do not shout.
Speak more softly. Record yourself in conversation to determine your volume relative to others. Practice speaking more quietly. Strive for warmth and resonance in your voice. Speak less. Use nonverbal cues to relay your message instead of words alone.
A Slow down your pace. Enunciate each syllable. Have a clear message in mind, and speak in full sentences. Insert pauses, or “commas,” into your speech. Control emotions.
A Speed up your pace. Read aloud and time yourself to get to a pace of about 150 words per minute. Introduce emotion into your voice.
A Speak succinctly. Employ an economy of words, and be as concise as possible. Make sure conversations are not sermons. Use appropriate vocabulary, not fancy words.
Professional resources are available to help you. Investing in voice coaching, improv lessons, or public speaking courses, such as those offered by Toastmasters, could quickly get your speaking skills up to par.
Pulitzer Prize-winning American public affairs columnist William Raspberry said, “Good English, well spoken and well written, will open more doors for you than a college degree. Bad English, poorly written, will slam doors that you didn’t even know existed.”
Words still matter. Polite expressions that used to be commonplace and much appreciated are too often missing from many modern vocabularies.
But generally, professional settings require more formal speech, especially if relationships are new, are one-time-only encounters, or involve persons from other countries.
It is the best to err on the side of traditional politeness and offer a full-throated “Hello,” “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry.”
When conversing with someone from another country, it is important to remember that the meaning of even a seemingly unambiguous word like yes is not universal. In some cultures, such as the Japanese, it is considered rude to say no. You may get an hai to something you say, but that only means someone hears or understands you, not necessarily that he agrees.
Know what the words mean, how they are pronounced, and the right context in which to use them. My friend mixes up common sayings so much that we’ve actually come to welcome and delight in them.
The words you use are an important element of your brands. Ban annoying terms, words, and clichés such as “touch base,” “circle back,” “deep dive,” “value-add,” “deliverable,” “bandwidth,” “synergize,” “killing it,” “socialize,” and “low-hanging fruit.” Resist peppering conversations with the latest slang.
These words and terms can come across as unprofessional and exclusionary and are often dated within months. However, sites like The Online Slang Dictionary will keep you up on the latest, and allow you to understand the jargon.
Avoid saying “utilize” or “signage” when “use” or “sign” work just as well. Steer clear of using words and phrases that made Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway’s annual list of the “worst corporate guff.” She said, “2015 broke all records for obfuscation, euphemism, and ugliness.”
Electronic communication suffers most from the increase of “techspeak,” but it has also crept into verbal communication. Commonly used terms and acronyms among millennials can leave older workers clueless.
Understanding the language of today’s workplace will give digital immigrants more confidence in their interactions with younger coworkers. Digital natives need to be patient and helpful with older peers as they become conversant with new terms and acronyms.
Hearing an authentic Boston accent is, for me, comforting because it means home. But to people from other places, a strong Boston accent may sound provincial. If others can’t understand you or tease you about your accent, try to minimize or even lose it if you can—or risk being seen as unsophisticated or unintelligent.
How do you lose a regional accent? Listen to newscasters! Their job is to disseminate information and build trust with the widest possible audience. To accomplish this, they must deliver news without a hint of regionalized accents. Try to emulate their speaking style by repeating their words with the same enunciation.
It goes without saying, using foul language or making disparaging remarks about others reflects badly on those using or making them. It could also cost promotions or jobs. Swearing raises red flags about an individual’s maturity, self-control, and even intelligence.
Foul language is offensive to many and can become an HR issue, especially if it is deemed offensive from gender, religious, or cultural perspectives. Swearing is tolerated in some industries more than others, but in general, using foul language does not enhance one’s brand and may impact one’s future.
The Good Listener
Listening is a great and rare gift you give to others. It shows respect and validates feelings. It allows them to vent emotions, gain perspective, clarify thinking, and develop trust.
Listeners benefit, too. Greater understanding, fewer mistakes, improved morale, saved time, solved problems and increased productivity are the results of good listening. Listening boosts reputations and strengthens career prospects. Listening is the magic bullet. So why don’t people listen?
In part, it is because human beings have a limited attention span, estimated at just eight seconds. People are also so consumed by content on the Internet that they can barely remember their own birthdays, let alone the details of what others are telling them. It seems that an increase in the use of technology is met with a commensurate decrease in attention span.
The myth of multitasking is another barrier. Many people think they can effectively listen and engage in other activities at the same time. But there is zero evidence to confirm that.
No matter what it’s called, studies point out that it doesn’t work. When people try to perform multiple tasks at once, they decrease their productivity and increase their errors. And relationships suffer.
Short attention spans, multitasking, and a scarcity of time combine to make listening to a challenging undertaking at best. Add to this the fact that most people are not all that interested in issues that do not directly impact them, and listening takes a hit. But listen we must! And it requires real effort.
Listening well means putting aside our own feelings and thoughts to absorb the speakers’ thoughts and feelings. It does not necessarily mean agreeing with what others say, only that we hear what they say.
Listening well means giving undivided attention, tuning into and mirroring others’ emotions, relating as best we can to what is being said, encouraging speakers to say more, and paraphrasing often so speakers know they are understood.
Good listeners don’t push conversations in particular directions. Instead, they immerse themselves in what others are saying and feeling and then, if appropriate, share insights, answer questions, or offer solutions.
THE CAREFUL LISTENER
Remove distractions. Give the person you are listening to your undivided attention. Turn away from your computer screen. Mute your phone. Look directly at the person speaking. And perhaps take the conversation to a private room to minimize interruptions.
A Be receptive. Don’t judge what is being said, finish sentences, supply words, change the subject, or commandeer the conversation.
Provide feedback and convey empathy. Emotionally connect with the person you are listening to and let them know you are interested and understand. Offer conversational “door openers” such as “That’s interesting, please go on” or “I’m glad you said that!”
Tune in to their emotions by saying, “That sounds exciting!” (Or frustrating, confusing, overwhelming, etc.) Use nonverbal cues: nods, smiles, furrowed brows, or looks of surprise or delight.
A Maintain discretion. Loose lips sink more than ships. They can sink your business, your career, and your finances. They can even land you in jail. Gossip breeds ill will, poor morale, lost productivity, and permanently damaged relationships.
Betray confidence and people will see you as untrustworthy, unprofessional, insecure, or just plain mean. Conversely, the person who demonstrates she can be trusted wins friends and allies and gains a reputation as someone who is mature and professional.
As you advance in your career, the need for clear, sensitive communication will grow. Without strong communication skills, there may not be an advancement.
Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey have followed different paths to success, but all are exceptional communicators. Each in their own way has learned how to engage in conversation, read and send nonverbal cues, and listen well.
Nonverbal communication says volumes. Read and use nonverbal cues to your advantage.
Eye contact has enormous power. It shows respect, engenders trust, and helps strengthen brands.
Good things come to good conversationalists. Practice your skills until the conversation is one of your strongest skills.
Listening well reaps great rewards. Use the knowledge and trust that respectful listening creates to become an exemplary employee, colleague, and business partner.
Smart Rules for Smart Devices
Now that we have mastered the art of face-to-face communication, we can exhale a sigh of relief and go back to the comfortable, controlled world of electronic communication. In the digital world, we’re in charge.
We communicate with whom we want, when we want, for how long we want, and by what means we want. In the digital world, we do not need to concern ourselves with the unpredictability inherent in in-person interactions.
Digital communication is, by great margins, the mode of choice for younger generations. Traditionalists still tend to favor face-to-face conversations when possible.
You need to determine the best mode of communication for a given set of circumstances and then undertake it skillfully. Consider the means by which others prefer to communicate, and adapt to their preferred style. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and then decide whether face-to-face, voice-to-voice, or text-based communication is the way to go.
Electronic communication disseminates information with speed, accuracy, and efficiency, but it is less effective in building relationships than face-to-face conversation. In his article, “Technology vs. Face to Face,” Barry Siskind cites a report prepared by the Harvard Business Review comparing face-to-face communication with electronic communication.
He concludes that in a number of key areas, including developing new relationships, negotiating, maintaining relationships, and overcoming cultural barriers, face-to-face communication beats electronic by overwhelming percentages.
Mark has worked very hard to land his new position at a highly regarded graphic design agency, after graduating from one of New York’s top schools. But now that he is on the job, some grim realities have settled in.
Mark presumed that work on actual projects would take up at least 90 percent of his time. He had failed to anticipate the incredible number of meetings, emails, and telephone calls every workday would include and the impact these would have on his project work. He is especially bothered by the lengthy, rambling email and phone messages he gets.
Mark was reminded of his college days when his mother would call and leave him long, detailed messages. Mark, most often, did not even listen to them and almost never called back. He had too much work to do.
One day he got a call from his father, who told him that if he did not start returning his mother’s calls, he would have to pay for his own phone plan. That got Mark’s attention.
Mark’s boss, a respected and tenured VP in the company, was now coming down the hallway. And he did not look pleased. His boss says to Mark, “I left you two urgent voicemail messages this morning about a client deadline that has been moved up. Why haven’t you responded?”
Mark was going to admit that he hadn’t even listened to the messages, when his boss said, “In the future, I expect you to respond promptly. I would rather not have to walk to your office to get your attention.” Mark starts to apologize, but his boss turns and walks away.
Mark now knows that listening to messages and returning calls is important, not just to his mother—it’s important to him if he wants to keep his job.
Millennials would rather do anything—anything—than talk on the telephone. Or leave or listen to voicemail messages. They consider phone calls to be invasive, time-consuming, impractical, and “old school.” Millennials so strongly prefer communicating through text and social media that many are not even sure how to leave voicemail messages.
Many millennials just don’t see the point of leaving voicemail messages. If a number shows up on someone’s phone, that means that person should call back, right? The problem is, not everyone realizes this is an expectation.
And even if they do, they are reluctant to return a call with no attendant message, thinking it could have been a misdial or “pocket dial.” They may also not recognize the number.
It’s not just millennials who have an aversion to talking on the phone; many of their older colleagues feel the same way. Once, the telephone was the only technology available, but now they too like the freedom and flexibility of text-based communication. Boomers and traditionalists will still usually answer the phone, but not always.
Leaving a voicemail message was once second nature for them, but today even they do not necessarily like to do so. Like their younger colleagues, this generation has begun to experience a kind of performance anxiety and vulnerability. They feel a lack of control over how their messages will be judged—and whether or not their calls will be returned.
Despite all the talk about the lack of actual talk, telephone conversations may be experiencing a resurgence. People have begun to miss the sound of a human voice, the subtle nuances of tone, the intimacy, the clarity, and the immediacy.
Collaboration is the predominant concept in today’s workplace. Even as the tools of collaborative technology become more sophisticated, the seemingly old-fashioned methods of e-communication—telephone and email—are not going away. Industries such as financial services and insurance, among many others, still rely heavily on cold calling to conduct and solicit business.
Companies also rely on the well-honed telephone skills of employees in call centers to attract and retain business and to guard the reputations of their brands. Even the largest e-commerce companies in the world, including Amazon and eBay, need telephone representatives to step in when technology falls short in meeting their customers’ needs.
Remember switchboard operators? Those cheery-voiced humans who knew how to quickly and correctly route calls and actually made callers feel that they appreciated their interest in their organizations? They still exist but in rapidly declining numbers.
The position of a switchboard operator, or company telephone operator (actual switchboards haven’t been used since the 1960s), may soon be extinct. Now direct-dial extensions, automated systems, and the occasional receptionist handle all incoming calls.
Still, it’s trickier than ever to actually get someone on the phone. If callers can even find a company’s phone number, they will often reach a recording encouraging them to visit the company’s website because “we are experiencing heavier than normal call volume.”
A caller is required to navigate a maze of recorded options, all with further options of their own, to finally get to the right person or department. Those making business calls increasingly find people won’t answer unless the calls were agreed to and scheduled in advance. An impromptu call is now often considered inconvenient, intrusive, and even inconsiderate.
When answering or placing a business call, you have one chance to set the tone for a relationship. Since up to 70 percent of a second ring.
An Answer professionally and enthusiastically, ideally by the Offer a greeting, “Hello” or “Good morning,” followed by the company or department name and your full name. Put a smile in your voice. If callers identify themselves, refer to them by their name and add “Mr.” or “Ms.” Use first names only if invited.
A Use good grammar, speak clearly, listen well, and give the call your undivided attention. Others will know if you are reading, typing, or otherwise distracted. Do not eat, drink, or chew gum while on the call.
Be aware of background noises. Ask permission before placing someone on hold and wait for an answer. If it is a lengthy hold, come back within a minute to update the caller on the status of your behind-the-scenes efforts.
Show politeness, patience, and respect unfailingly, regardless of the caller’s demeanor. A call is often precipitated by a problem. If a caller is upset, let him speak. Apologize for his inconvenience.
This does not mean you are necessarily accepting responsibility for the problem but simply acknowledging he is upset. Often, this is all that is needed to diffuse emotion and get the conversation on a positive track.
A Treat every call as important. Sometimes you won’t know until after the fact just how important a call or caller was. Placing calls reflects on your brand and your company’s brand, too. When initiating calls:
A Organize your thoughts before the call. Make sure you identify yourself. If the person was not expecting your call, assess her tone of voice. It will convey her openness to speaking with you.
Asking if your call is convenient at this point allows the person the choice of continuing the conversation. This, on its own, often relaxes the recipient enough to continue. If it is not a good time, ask when would be a better time.
A Leave enough, but not too much, information on voicemail. Speak clearly and slowly. Leave your name and number at the beginning of the message and at the end. Do not leave ambiguous or personal messages or bad news on voice-mail.
Have you noticed that virtually no one returns calls anymore? If a call is not a cold sales call, the reasons are myriad. It could be that the caller failed to leave a recognizable name or intelligible number. It could be that the recipient is away, consumed by work, or never listens to messages.
It could be that whatever precipitated the call, such as following up on an inquiry or proposal, has been put on the back burner by the recipient. It could also be that someone is no longer interested in pursuing the conversation or business relationship and, rather than being upfront about this, just hopes the caller will give up and go away.
Whatever the reason, it is confusing and disheartening when a call is not returned, especially if there is a preexisting business relationship or the other person initiated the dialogue. Try not to take it personally. You may follow up once and maybe even twice, but after that, it is better to let it go.
Relentlessly pursuing someone not interested in communicating at that moment does not generally strengthen a relationship. Instead, focus on other projects. Oftentimes, the person will circle back to you when the timing is right.
If you are the one who initiated a dialogue or requested a quote, proposal, or information, it is courteous to return follow-up calls or emails. Even if your answer is “no” or “not now,” you will have respected the other person’s time and preserved a relationship that you may need or want again in the future.
There are officially more mobile devices in the world than there are people, now numbering upwards of 7 billion. As mobile phones—cell phones, satellite phones, and smartphones— continue to proliferate, the opportunities to bother others while using them do too, at an equal pace.
We have all probably been guilty of a mobile phone faux pas at some point. If so, it may be time for a phone self-intervention.
CELL PHONE SELF-INTERVENTION
Among business or social peers, keeping your phone out may be acceptable, but among clients or higher-ups, it is better to put it away.
Do not use a mobile phone at a business, social, or family meal. Excusing yourself to the restroom every 10 minutes or texting under the table are obvious tactics to circumvent this rule.
In some circles, phone use at restaurants has been drastically curtailed by dining companions who agree to put their phones in the center of the table: Whoever answers a call or text first pays the bill!
A Use a phone in social situations only if it benefits the group.
If you need to get directions, make reservations, call a cab, clarify a point, or get a sports score in which everyone is interested, use your phone. If your group’s culture allows for phone use, feel free. But do not be the first, as a domino effect will quickly take hold.
A Do not use a mobile phone in a church or a synagogue, or at any solemn occasion such as a wake or memorial service. Do not use a phone in a doctor’s office, at the movies, at the gym, in a locker room, at parties, or while ordering or checking out.
And of course, no texting while driving or walking. In 2015, a woman was hit when she walked into the path of a freight train while texting. Miraculously, she survived.
Take photos only with permission and never with unsuspecting persons in the background. These may end up on a public feed, which would be an invasion of their privacy.
Once seated, Connor, a guy with cockiness to spare, immediately gets on his devices and puts his phone on speaker so he can have both hands free to type.
At a decibel level, the entire car can hear, Connor’s conversations include a litany of complaints about his demanding employer, his difficult client, and his complicated love life, replete with individual and company names.
Andrew is uncomfortable. And from the body language, the other riders are exhibiting, he knows they are as well.
Speakerphones are great for hands-free phone conversations, but they can be uncomfortable for those at the other end. If a conversation is between just two people, a headset is a better option, as it allows for both convenience and privacy.
However, once you are hands-free, the temptation to multitask can be overwhelming. If you are prone to this temptation, it may be better to pick up a handset.
At work, a respectful, productive speakerphone meeting follows a pattern. After securing a private room, the meeting leader begins the call by asking permission to put someone on speaker.
If anyone leaves or joins the call midway, the person on the speaker is always advised. The call is given undivided attention by all participants, who refrain from holding side conversations, eating, or using other electronic devices. The meeting leader wraps up the call and thanks to everyone for attending.
Conference Calls and Videoconferences
All of the guidelines for speakerphone calls apply to conference calls. Because conference calls are generally more formal and involve more people, they require some additional guidelines as well.
Conference call organizers send invitations with all pertinent call-in information and agendas in advance and reminder notices the day before and/or the morning of the call.
If there is a service provider, they test all the technology beforehand so there are no problems on the big day. Agendas include all items that will be covered and who will be responsible for addressing them. If there are primary speakers on the call, it will include their bios.
Attendees prepare for the call by completing any assignments or reading indicated, and by jotting down questions and points they would like to raise. Participants call in at least three minutes before the scheduled start time, using reliable phones to avoid dropped calls.
When the organizer has not muted the call, attendees mute their phones and check to be sure they have actually done so. This is an especially important point for those working from home offices, where distractions abound.
Participants stay focused, adhere to the agenda, and bring ancillary matters up after the call. It is tempting to do any number of other things during a conference call, from answering email to running to the restroom. But that is to be avoided, as invariably that will be the very moment the call participant is asked for his input.
Videoconferencing, or real-time audio/visual communication between or among individuals or groups, is the technology of choice for companies wanting a solution for cost-effective collaboration.
Videoconferencing requires all of the preparations and precautions of speakerphone and conference calls, but since participants are now seen, attention to nonverbal cues becomes important as well.
Whether they are sitting in a conference room or a home office, participants will take great care with their attire. Since everything is on display, they will make sure furnishings and décor reflect professionalism.
Spaces will be uncluttered, the artwork will be tasteful, accouterments will be appropriate. Overflowing wastebaskets, crammed bookshelves, and bobblehead figures will be out of sight.
Annabelle has her hands full. As assistant athletics director for a Division One college, she is responsible for special programs for student-athletes.
She also meets with a fair number at the behest of their coaches for individual instruction. There are more than 30 teams, and with an otherwise full schedule, Annabelle’s calendar is jammed every day of the week. Still, she is happy to give of her time to those who need extra guidance.
What makes Annabelle less happy are some of the attitudes she encounters. Even though their coaches have required them to meet with Annabelle, she sometimes feels like they think they are doing her a favor.
She received an email from a student-athlete with the subject line empty, no salutation, no closing, and no context. In its entirety, it read, “Hi when do you want to do this.”
Complaints about email are deafening and universal. In-boxes full of messages with missing subject lines misspelled words, improper grammar, inappropriate language, and indecipherable acronyms are just some of the grievances.
A succession of “Reply All” messages is the biggest complaint. In some organizations, real-time group messaging apps such as Slack, which eliminate the dreaded “Reply All,” are replacing internal email.
Group-messaging apps are quickly catching on and may eventually become standard for internal communication. But they will still require adherence to guidelines for professionally written email.
According to the Radicati Group, the technology market research firm, email is still the go-to form of business communication. Email Statistics Report indicates:
The number of business email accounts will reach 1.1 billion by the end of 2017.
The number of business emails sent and received per user per day will increase from 122 in 2015 to 126 in 2019.
Email addresses are still required to access IM and social networking sites and are also needed for online transactions such as banking and shopping.
Despite all of the other ways to communicate, work email is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.
This is not good news for many millennials, who look at email much like voicemail: something to be tolerated until it finally dies. Millennials are often perceived as being unable or unwilling to write professional emails; indeed, many have not written a full sentence since they were in school.
As a result, the quality of millennials’ writing skills is considered one of their biggest impediments in getting jobs, and once on the job, in getting ahead.
A lot is at stake as seemingly bright people learn the hard way every day. Professionals at the highest levels in their fields have lost their jobs, ruined their reputations, and suffered extreme personal, financial, and health consequences as a result of carelessly crafted, hastily sent emails.
You can avoid these problems by, first of all, never ever emailing when angry. It may feel good for a moment, but remorse and all its ugly ramifications will quickly set in.
If you simply must vent, do so with a trusted companion—your dog or cat maybe—or write your complaint out in longhand and then throw it away. Do absolutely anything but electronically communicate anger. It will become part of your permanent digital dossier.
Unless there is no other way, do not use email for highly personal messages such as those about illness, death, divorce, or pregnancy. These are emotionally charged messages, better-shared face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice. Be extremely careful of the content of professional emails.
If your company is ever sued, your emails could become part of e-discovery, the process of gathering ESI (electronically stored information) for legal purposes. Apply the standard of “if you would not say it face-to-face, do not write it in an email.”
Studies show that people are much braver when communicating from behind a screen and that the lack of nonverbal cues makes typewritten messages sound much more aggressive than intended.
A Use the subject line to summarize the focus of the message. Incorporating “URG,” “REQ,” or “FYI” lets recipients know if the email requires immediate attention, a request is being made, or information is simply being conveyed.
Double-check email addresses before hitting the send button. Send only relevant emails to those who need to receive them.
A Do not send “Reply All” or “CC All” messages unless absolutely necessary. Use the CC field if someone needs to be privy to an email but does not need to respond. Use the To field if a response is requested from the recipient.
Use BCC (blind carbon copy) ethically, and not to mislead that email exchange is confidential. Protect others’ email addresses, contact information, and messages by not forwarding them without their permission.
A Read through email threads completely before responding or forwarding. Once our names are attached, it is a tacit admission that we have read them.
Before writing, determine how formal the email should be based upon the relationship with the recipient. Greater formality is in order with clients, company executives, persons from cultures where formality is valued, and those we do not know well.
Apply business letter–writing standards by including an appropriate salutation and closing. Make sure sentences are properly structured and words are correctly spelled. Observe the rules of capitalization and punctuation.
Allow words to convey their meaning and emotion. Steer clear of emoticons and emojis in professional emails. Avoid using all capital letters, no capital letters, multiple exclamation points, bold typeface, bright colors, or flashing text. Also, avoid marking every email “high-priority” or using RR (Read Receipt). Recipients find these annoying.
A Proofread all emails. Use but do not rely solely upon grammar check and spell-check. Read emails aloud to be sure they reflect the intended tone. Do not send or forward jokes, chain mail, political or religious messages, virus warnings, fund-raising appeals, or inspirational sayings.
If forwarding an email, edit out all extraneous information and include a brief personal note. Be concise and brief and make one main point. I know of one executive who on principle will not read past two lines in an email. Use bullets.
A Respond to emails promptly. If you cannot respond at least by the end of the day, have an “out of office” message automatically sent back to the recipient.
Freelance marketing consultant Evelyn loves the flexibility and comfort of her home office. And she is thrilled she no longer needs to fight the rush hour traffic that made her commute so grindingly stressful, a commute she had made for years. Still, it can be lonely.
That’s why the nearby coffee shop Evelyn discovered came to be a sanctuary for her. Perfect for freelancers like herself, it was never too crowded or noisy and always had friendly, familiar faces behind the counter and at the tables, too.
Evelyn could get her work done while enjoying freshly brewed coffee and low-key fellowship with others whose workdays were organized similarly to hers.
Sometimes it is okay to physically spread out a little, but during busy times, be aware of space constraints and adhere to the rule of one chair and one electronic device on a table per customer.
With regard to public Wi-Fi, remember that public bandwidth may be limited; save the downloading of huge files or the watching of movies for home. Also, remember that public networks are by definition less secure. Use a virtual private network (VPN) service for a secure Internet connection.
Acronyms and Abbreviations
Since the essence of text-based communication is brevity, some acronyms and abbreviations may be okay as long as the reader readily understands what the writer intends and the message is appropriate. In business emails, they should be rarely used, as such shorthand could come across as unprofessional.
But professionals still want to be familiar with the most often used communication shortcuts. There are a number of excellent sources for Internet jargon, including netlingo.com and the Internet Slang Dictionary.
Despite its foibles—wretched autocorrect and messages that go astray, get sent too soon, or are indecipherable—text messaging, or SMS (short messaging service), is still immensely popular.
Yes, it has lost ground among the 18–24 age group to apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat, but texting is still the go-to among business professionals.
When communicating by text, the urgency of the message should be taken into consideration. Some people see and read their texts immediately, others not for hours or even days. If in doubt, it’s safer to call.
Consider whether a text is the best mode of communication with a particular person. Even if you have your boss’s number, a text might not be her preference. However, if she texted you in the past, and the information is appropriate, then feel comfortable using this medium.
If someone sends you a text, reply in kind, instead of with a phone call. When a text exchange gets lengthy, it is appropriate to suggest a phone conversation to speed things up. With group texts, include only those who really need to see them.
A Spell words out in professional texts. Use punctuation even if it seems laborious and unnecessary. If using the voice-to-text feature, carefully review the text before sending it, as it may read nothing like what you intended. Tone, humor, and sarcasm can be easily misinterpreted via text; use these sparingly.
Instant messaging is real-time communication between individuals via the Internet, similar to a private chat room. IMs are practical for internal communication, especially when collaboration is desired. But it is not a perfect solution for everyone.
Many find IM intrusive yet do not want to disable it for fear of missing important messages. The rules of good grammar, tone, professionalism, and brevity apply to IMs as they do for all text-based communication.
A Do not, generally, send IMs to strangers. Some people do not mind and actually solicit them, but others consider them presumptuous. Ask how someone wishes to be contacted. Use a greeting before launching into your message, and ask if the IM recipient has time to chat.
A Use and respect status messages. If someone has set her status as “Do Not Disturb,” then do not disturb her!
Use acronyms carefully. Acronyms are slightly more acceptable with internal IMs, but when in doubt, spell it out.
An End an IM exchange with a sign-off. Rather than run the risk of leaving someone hanging, end with a “Thank you” or “It was nice talking with you” message.
An Address one point at a time. Wait for a response before moving on to the next point. If your message must be divided into multiple thoughts for the sake of clarity, insert a line break between each thought. For a lengthy exchange, it may be better to ask if the person has time to talk.
The Company Intranet
When used respectfully and thoughtfully, the company intranet provides an efficient platform for internal communication and collaboration. Employees use the intranet to internally crowd-source ideas and gain feedback on initiatives.
Used effectively, the company intranet supports a corporate culture, disseminates information, and enhances productivity.
A Learn your organization’s intranet “Dos and Don’ts.” The system administrator may have a formal document and colleagues can also quickly get you up to speed.
A Determine if you are ready to have a document reviewed or commented on. In some organizations, once a document is saved on a shared platform, it is fair game for anyone’s comments and edits. Never pass off someone else’s content as your own.
A Keep your username and password secure. Do not store sensitive information, including pin numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers on the intranet.
The ways in which you can communicate and collaborate will only become more sophisticated over time. It won’t be long before holographic telepresence technology allows for in-room communication with real-time, full-motion, 3-D images of colleagues continents away.
As technology continues to develop at a breakneck speed, it can seem overwhelming. If you remember to practice the Platinum Rule, you will be just fine.
Text communication will never equal the power of the human voice. Developing telephone skills is time well spent.
An Email continues to be the go-to means of business communication. Professionals are judged by their email practices and the content and tone of their messages.
Human beings take precedence over electronic devices.
Attached as we are to them, we must look up from and put down our devices.
Professionalism never takes a holiday. Appreciate the speed and convenience of a text and instant messaging, but never forget that text-based communication lives forever.
Your Digital Footprint
A social media devotee since its beginning, Sarah keeps up with her numerous friends, some going all the way back to junior high school.
Personal and organizational digital footprints are growing larger by the second. With every post, visit, share, tag, like, snap, and forward, social media users leave traces of digital DNA that can never be erased.
It is a complicated issue with freedom of speech, information integrity, and censoring implications that will likely not be resolved any time soon.
There is a lot at stake in your use of digital technology, including your safety, security, reputation, relationships, finances, creditworthiness, insurability, and employment. In real life, if you are lucky, the mistakes you make may be forgotten. Online, mistakes live forever.
There is no way to reset your reputation, no way to declare “digital bankruptcy,” no way to start over. And transparency, a good thing in relationships and business dealings, has a price online. The worst thing you’ve done will be the first thing someone finds when they search your name.
The list of bright, successful people who have gotten into trouble on social media is very long. All we need to do is read or watch the news on any day via any medium to learn of yet another prominent person going down in flames due to ill-considered online activities. These missteps often cost them everything. Others survive them, but only after offering public apologies.
Companies are also not immune to social media gaffes, and many highly regarded organizations have had to do extensive online damage control. With so many cautionary tales and the widely held feeling that by now we should know better, it is a wonder that this is still happening. Still, for many, the temptation to vent online is irresistible.
Social media also pose serious potential dangers for companies. Data loss, security breaches, compliance violations, reputation damage, compromised intellectual property, and leaked strategy initiatives are some of the risks.
Realization of the potential impact of online transgressions is increasing. To help manage their online brands, some individuals and organizations are hiring reputation repair and management companies, often for a hefty fee.
These companies try to bury, not remove, unsavory online articles and references. They also monitor social media for new problematic items that might pop up.
It is possible to fix a less-than-perfect digital dossier without investing enormous amounts of time and money. And a great deal can be done for free. First, start with an online audit. Even if you’ve done one in the past, content constantly changes without your knowledge, consent, or control.
If any new questionable tweets, photos, or videos are discovered, delete them, and ask friends to do the same. Second, consistently add new content to bury potentially damaging items.
Videos rank high on Google searches, so she advises including a video blog to ensure that people see what you want them to see. She also recommends a traditional blog and a robust social media presence, including profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Keep in mind that it is far easier to make a good impression online than it is to unmake a bad one. Protect yourself by not airing personal grievances or angry opinions, no matter how justified you might feel, or posting anything that could be considered racist, sexist, or any other “ist” you can imagine.
Never engage in online shaming, a dreadful practice often equated with cyberbullying. Make sure all of your online content is relevant and useful, and apply the same standards for virtual communication that you use in real life.
This means listen more than talk, respect others’ opinions, apologize for mistakes, avoid arguments, express appreciation, and always be accountable.
Businesses are very much aware of the reach and power of social media. With upbeat stories and positive news items, they seek to attract followers and build relationships through “social selling.”
Their ultimate goal is to convert leads into clients, and clients into brand advocates. But like personal users, businesses are not immune to costly social media failures.
Companies that have tried to disguise online promotions with “sympathy” for national tragedies and natural disasters have paid dearly for their greed and insensitivity. Human error is also an ever-present risk.
It went to the company’s entire Twitter following and stayed up a full hour before someone noticed and took it down.
To expand their reach, companies are increasingly tapping into their employees’ social media networks, positioning themselves to take advantage of the enormous marketing potential this offer. Studies show that millennials especially are far more influenced by online endorsements made by their friends than they are by direct marketing from brands.
Companies that use their employees as brand ambassadors must be careful because they are at risk by association. Many are implementing social media training programs to help employees understand their organization’s social media strategies, online best practices, and the benefits to them of being brand ambassadors.
Companies need to avoid heavy-handed approaches. Employees cannot be coerced into offering up their networks, nor can there be any infringement on their rights to free speech under the National Labor Relations Act.
Even as professionals learn the basics of social media, they will continue to educate themselves in their use.
You’ve built a positive reputation by building strong relationships, posting timely and relevant information, engaging followers, and demonstrating integrity. Having an online presence means you are able to demonstrate and share value.”
There is still a percentage of the working population that, for reasons of privacy, safety, personal preference, or the risks described, chooses not to use social media.
But if a professional is not searchable, especially on LinkedIn, it immediately begs the question “Why not?” or “What is he trying to hide?” Today, social media is where the business conversation takes place, with or without us. We need to be part of the conversation.
The Cyber Citizen
In a moment of self-reflection, Edward wonders how he got so mean and judgmental. The 55-year-old senior executive at Class A Spaces, a leading commercial real estate firm, has mentored countless young folks over the years.
He was always happy to do so and has taken great pride in their accomplishments. Edward credits his own success to his mentors and the amazing network he built over 25 years in the business.
Things are so different now from when he started. Back then, networking was done face-to-face over business meals and after-hours drinks and at conferences and sporting events.
Edward has always loved those in-person connections and knows the relationships he developed from them are largely responsible for his success.
Today, networking is almost all electronic. Edward understands the time-saving appeal of mass-networking but is not as sold on the value or quality of some of the relationships that come from it.
Take LinkedIn. On any given day, Edward receives multiple invitations to connect, the majority of which come from people he doesn’t know. Most of the invitations are impersonal and seem hastily sent. All are blatantly self-promotional, about what he can do for them. To be honest, he isn’t inclined to do anything for them.
It’s difficult to endorse people who have unprofessional profiles or share strong political or social views. His credibility is at stake. It’s hard for him to reject these invitations even though that is his inclination. Edward again wonders just how and when he became so mean and judgmental.
The ever-changing and ever-growing number of social media platforms makes it unfeasible to learn the individual best practices for every one of them. The good news is you do not need to. Adhering to basic guidelines for use with all media is almost all that is required to keep your brand intact.
It is important, however, to learn the differences between the major platforms, as each has its distinct purpose and personality. When you want to clearly understand what should be shared on a specific site, think first of the three Ps: whether the information is suitable for public, private, or professional audiences.
Even when using platforms as intended, you need to discern the fine line between being appropriately social and inappropriately annoying. We all have the “friend” who cannot go one day without posting yet another cloying platitude, a detailed description of her awesome life, or cat video.
Observe what happens on the various platforms. Social media offer swift, often stinging feedback. Sometimes just not doing as others do is all that is required.
We have identified respect as the basis for all personal and professional success. There is no place where respect, or the lack of it, is more starkly displayed than on social media.
The reach, speed, and permanency of behavior on social media can literally make or break a career. Online respect is not only a good thing, but it is also imperative for workplace survival.
On social media, respect starts with adopting the attributes of a good cyber citizen. In his book, Unmarketing, Scott Stratton describes the concept of “social currency.”
He says if one wants value from social media, one has to first build currency. Once someone has proven to be helpful, his network will be more willing to help in return. Like a bank, you can’t make a withdrawal until you have made a deposit!
Respect your privacy and others’ privacy. A teacher was fired simply because someone else posted a photo of her having a beer at a bar while on vacation. Be considerate about what you share on your own and on your friends’ pages and feeds. If a message is at all personal, send it to the person directly.
Very important: Never post anything that could jeopardize the safety or personal property of yourself or others. This means you do not share anyone’s home address, current location, or travel plans. It is estimated that 80 percent of burglars glean information from social media to plan their activities.
Criminals employ Google Street View to stalk homes, view Facebook to monitor check-ins at hotels and airport lounges, and use location data garnered from posted pictures to know when someone is not at home.
Users themselves often openly advertise and chronicle their comings and goings via posts and photos, giving thieves extremely useful information.
You can avoid being a victim of “cyber casing” by not sharing upcoming travel plans online, not checking in from remote locations, and not posting photos until you are home. Keep your phone from giving away your location by disabling geotags and GPS tracking and by not publishing photos directly from your phone.
Online best practices require that you consider how your friends’ posts reflect on you. If their posts often include inappropriate language, photos, or humor, it may be time to rethink these connections. Some worry that to “unfriend” someone on Facebook, especially if he is a family member or longtime friend, will do irreparable harm to that relationship.
Luckily, privacy settings allow for stealth ways to limit what people see without having to blatantly unfriend them.
These include “hiding” people from your feed, using privacy features to customize what others see, and turning off chat features with particular friends or blocking them. You can, of course, actually unfriend people, too. They won’t be notified, but will probably figure it out.
All major social media platforms have privacy settings and sharing features. These differ from site to site and seem to constantly change, making it hard to keep up. Staying current with and using sites’ privacy settings are the best ways to protect your brand and relationships.
First impressions matter online, as they always do in life in general. Regardless of the platform, always introduce yourself; don’t assume others will know who you are. When inviting someone to join your network, including a brief, warm, personalized note, not the generic message provided by the platform.
In completing your professional profile pages, use an actual photo of yourself at the age you are now. Your baby photo, however cute, can be confusing and possibly seen as inauthentic or unprofessional. On all sites, use good grammar and check your spelling.
Just as in real life, you choose your friends in cyberspace and they choose you. Sometimes you receive connection requests from people you do not know or from people you do know but do not wish to connect with.
You do not need to accept every request nor will all of your requests be accepted. Many people have strict guidelines for themselves about whom they will accept as connections.
Some will just connect with immediate family, others with extended family and close actual friends and others with anyone who invites them! Don’t take it personally if your request is not accepted.
Some think it is rude to ignore friend or connection requests; others think it more humane to let them sit in pending mode rather than reject them outright. Who knows? In the future, you may want to connect with this person. It may be better not to burn a bridge.
The intervals at which you post may also reflect upon your social media savvy. SumAll, a data analytics company, offers these posting guidelines: Facebook, two times a day (more than that, and likes and comments will drop off); LinkedIn, one time a weekday;
Google+, three times a day; Twitter, three times a day; Instagram, up to two times a day; Pinterest, up to five times a day; and a blog, up to two times a week.
The Social Network
Stephen used to think Facebook was for kids, but now most of his friends have accounts. So he finally decided he would take the plunge.
But it’s been hard for him to get the hang of it. Wall posts, status updates, timelines, messages, lists, privacy settings—it’s all overwhelming. And boy, is he making mistakes.
A scenario like this is unthinkable to digital natives, but to those just getting their feet wet in social media waters, it happens all the time. Digital natives have an edge over their older colleagues with regard to social media etiquette, mostly because they wrote the rules!
As this technology evolved, they learned which behaviors were acceptable and welcomed on the various platforms and which were not. Now that guidelines have been widely agreed on and adopted, later social media entrants can quickly get up to speed with a little research and a lot of good judgment.
As a card-carrying digital immigrant, I reached out to my network, which includes some folks who make they're living in social media. These experts vetted my advice and shared their own best practices for the most popular social media sites.
Meant to be a primer, the following may be brand new information for digital immigrants or a review for digital natives. For those who live and breathe social media, it will serve as a simple reminder of the importance of practicing good habits.
Fifty-eight-year-old Christine, CEO of a large apparel company, has so far resisted the pressure. Christine has heard from her executive team how important it is for her to have a social media presence and about the benefits to the company of a CEO who is seen as accessible, transparent, and responsive.
But the few spare moments she has after the typical 80-hour workweek she wants to spend with her family, not tweeting or posting updates on LinkedIn. Besides, it just seems complicated and too risky.
Facebook is a social networking website that enables users to join networks of friends, family, and people with similar interests. A Facebook profile is one’s personal account on Facebook.
Here, people can “friend” others, post photos, and videos, “like” and share others’ posts, send messages and provide updates. Depending upon privacy settings, a user’s friends may see a user’s posts on his “wall” and have the ability to comment on his posts.
Only one Facebook profile can be associated with a name. While not a business-oriented site, Facebook has implemented a feature that allows users to add professional skills to their profiles, increasingly leveraging its users’ vast social connections to compete in the job search market.
An employee posts, “I hate my boss,” and gets the comment, “You do realize we’re friends on FB, right?”
A young intern says he cannot come to work due to a family emergency. He shows up the same day on Facebook in a photo at a Halloween party, dressed as a wand-wielding fairy.
An A young man posts a photo of himself doing drugs and gets the comment, “ . . . give me a good reason not to fire you first thing Monday morning.”
In contrast to a profile, a Facebook page is a business account through which brands ask customers and prospects to like their pages to follow their brands. Here, they can also advertise with Facebook ads. To have a Facebook page, one must first have a Facebook profile. However, one can then have as many pages as he desires.
It’s important to keep personal and business connections and profiles separate. One reason is that use of a personal account to promote a business is against Facebook’s terms of service, which may result in Facebook deleting the account.
Equally important is that content shared on personal and business accounts is or at least should be, meant for distinctly different audiences.
A Facebook page is a great way for a business to grow a following, establish credibility, and measure engagement results. It’s important to take time to learn the best practices for this medium and to remember that it’s a two-way conversation. All comments, both positive and negative, require a response.
When deciding upon how many Facebook friends you want to have, it is wise to remember that the greater the number of Facebook friends, the greater the risk of information falling into the wrong hands.
The advice is to think carefully about what and how often you post about others, especially children. In France, parents can now be sued by their adult children and possibly jailed for having posted their photos on social media without their permission.
Actual bragging gets old, too. Facebook is for sharing one’s happy news among real friends and family members, as long as such posts do not dominate and self-congratulation is kept at bay.
Promoting friends’ good news is great, provided it’s someone you actually have a relationship with in real life. Otherwise, it can seem creepy. But if the good news is about you or an immediate family member, allowing friends to share it whenever possible has a much nicer ring!
There are some everyday Facebook practices that can help us avoid potentially sticky situations.
They include making sure we send private messages for two-way communication, refraining from posting status changes unless all affected parties have been notified (a young man learned his parents were divorcing when he saw that his mother had changed her status to single), and being careful about checking in from Starbucks when we are supposed to be homesick!
But perhaps the easiest way to make sure our Facebook friends actually stay our friends is to subject our posts to these three filters: Is it interesting? Is it helpful? Is it entertaining? If our posts meet these criteria, we’ll stay a welcome Facebook connection.
A LinkedIn user recently garnered an extraordinary number of comments when she posted a picture of herself in a bikini, admittedly and purposely to gain attention. It worked but judging from many of the comments, not in an entirely favorable way.
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking website for professional summaries, industry-related groups, networking events, and career marketing.
It also has messaging functions that allow users to post status updates and to share or like content posted by others. As of August 2016, LinkedIn had 450 million members worldwide.
In June 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. Said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “Think about it: how people find jobs, build skills, sell, market, and get work done and ultimately find success requires a connected professional world.”
While there are now networking sites that cater to professionals of all stripes and at all stages of their careers, LinkedIn is still very much the premier destination.
With newer features that seem to have a distinct social slant to them, many users are beginning to lament what they consider the “Facebookification” of LinkedIn.
An increasing number of non-business-related posts including the sharing of personal stories, political views, and even one’s availability for dating is putting the site’s professional status at risk.
Some see this evolution as a sign of the times, a reflection of the melding of personal and professional lives, and not necessarily a bad thing. Why wouldn’t individuals want to take full advantage of their entire networks?
As features of the largest social media sites become more commonly shared and the major sites themselves increasingly indistinguishable, this cross-pollination may indeed be the way of the future. But for now, most feel drawing a distinction between how personal and professional sites are used is a good thing.
To protect the value and integrity of your relationships on LinkedIn, most say to connect only with people you have actually met. Others say it’s okay to connect with people you do not actually know if you have other people in common or share professional interests.
If you do not know someone personally, request an introduction or explain who you are and why you want to connect. Referencing that you heard someone speak, or your fellow LinkedIn members. read and enjoy her blog, or share an alma mater may just garner you a new connection.
Take advantage of vanity URLs. They are easier to remember and more personal. Write a professional summary/bio. Be honest in your profile. Former colleagues and bosses will note embellishments and inconsistencies. Complete your LinkedIn page, and update it regularly. An old or abandoned page raises red flags.
A Ask for recommendations only of people who are familiar with you and your work. Reciprocate recommendations whenever possible. Endorse others for their skills as you see fit and thank others for their endorsements.
A Accept invitations promptly. Unless you have a good reason not to accept an invitation (you do not know someone, or you do—but think he would not reflect well upon you), accept an invitation when it is received.
Join groups and associations to harness the expertise of
Be sure to read and then follow the group’s rules. You can certainly start your own group but make sure you are able to commit to it.
Avoid excessive self-promotion. Examples include using groups or associations to promote your services or content or posing a problem and then answering it with the promotion of you or your company.
Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as “tweets.” Tweets are text-based posts limited to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers, who are known as followers.
Twitter is different from other social media in that there is no acceptance process for followers of your feed. It is possible to protect your tweets, but that will limit the business and networking benefits you seek.
Some people argue that you should follow everyone who follows you and use lists to keep track of those you truly care to follow. You are under no obligation to follow someone who tweets content that is of no interest to you or is obviously self-promotional, regardless of whether they follow you or not.
While the Twittersphere is ever-expanding and endless, always be mindful, it is not about the number of followers you amass, it’s about the quality of the connections you create.”
Remember this is a two-way personal communication tool.
Add more value than you request. Social media guru Chris Brogan offers this guideline: “Promote other people 12 times to every 1 self-promotional tweet.” Don’t ask for re-tweets. Contribute relevant and interesting content and it will be re-tweeted.
A Create a list of Twitter accounts you truly care about. Too many, and it’s hard to keep up. Make sure your bio is complete with a photo, full description, and link to further information about you. An incomplete bio is a sign of a spammer.
A Use the hashtag (#) sign to make content, conversations, and trends searchable. Long a staple on Twitter, it is used to categorize subjects, find related content, and gain wider audiences.
The hashtag has been criticized for its overuse and, as such, should be used thoughtfully. This means not overloading posts so the subject itself is indecipherable and not using long, cryptic hashtags.
A Be extremely careful of the messages you post. If you must address a private matter, do so via direct message (DM), not in front of your entire Twitter audience.
As you traverse the ever-changing, the tricky terrain of social media, commit to learning as much as you can about the unique characteristics of the various sites.
Do take the social media plunge even at the risk of making mistakes. Keeping in mind the basics of authenticity, transparency, respect, and relevancy will keep you on the right track.
Social media has changed the world. Engage in ways that favorably burnish your brand, and you will be considered credible, competent, and current. Be consistent on platforms.
Digital footprints are forever. Personal reputations and company brands are at risk through social media misuse.
Take precautions to mitigate these risks.
Social media benefits are incalculable. It’s a matter of making the decision to join the online conversation.
Observing the Formalities author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive
Service is slow. Wrong or incorrectly cooked meals arrive at the table. Servers are surly. Glasses topple, silverware falls, and food flies. Guests argue or over-imbibe.
And all of this happens before the credit card is declined. And these are just the business meals. Every other client entertainment vehicle has its own inherent potential perils.
Business dining is rife with risk, but it is a risk the serious professional wants to take as often as possible. You can expand opportunities, acquire information, garner advice, gain introductions, and strengthen bonds, all for a pittance in the investment of time and money.
Business dining is the perfect vehicle for welcoming business partners, celebrating good news, rewarding major milestones, showing gratitude, delivering apologies, and sharing important or difficult news.
The Business of Hospitality
Breaking bread in business has always been about strengthening relationships. And it is as important today as it’s ever been. But a dedicated dining experience outside of the office for the purposes of building a relationship is out of sync with the way millennials do things.
Why pay for food and drinks when their employers offer them for free? Relationship building for this cohort is done across the open-plan office or via social media, not at formal place settings. Traditional business entertaining is becoming less of a priority to older generations as well.
Globally, the significance of business dining and entertaining cannot be overstated. A critical component of establishing trust, business dining in the international arena determines whether or not there will be a subsequent business relationship.
I am very much into relationships, and believe that to form good ones and conduct successful business you need to be relaxed— and that often comes as a result of enjoying a good meal on a one-to-one basis.”
In the U.S., entertaining of clients often follows successful business dealings, but around the world, they are integral throughout the entire process.
International dining customs vary widely, and serious professionals go to great lengths to prepare themselves accordingly. They know that when dining with Japanese clients, you never pour alcohol for yourself. Among Arabs, you do not use your left hand to eat, as that hand is considered unclean.
Attire, introductions, gift-giving, conversation, dining etiquette, the significance of alcohol, toasting, and after-hours entertainment are just some of the important elements that are carefully researched before dining with international business partners.
This may seem an effective tactic, but may also leave a great deal of potential on the table. Working breakfasts and luncheons are perfectly fine if billed as such up front.
And, of course, if clients want to talk business over meals, we are happy to comply. But if stronger alliances are what we are after, we need to let the balance of conversation be about nonbusiness items.
While you are learning about your dining companion over a business meal, you too are under the microscope. Your guest is on the lookout for clues about you—your personality, your integrity, and how much you value this relationship. The amount of thought you give to the choice of venue, the invitation, the greeting, and the seating of your guest are also under evaluation.
How you interact with the server, order wine, steer the conversation, deal with the unforeseen, and pay the bill are, too. At a business meal, your grace, generosity, and personal characteristics are on display and contribute to your guest’s evaluation of you and your overall suitability as a business partner.
Business dining opportunities involve more than just those with clients and prospects. Coworkers, employees, and bosses get to see us eat every day. And the people who hold our professional futures in their hands notice us as we wolf down our overstuffed Italian subs, our chins dripping with olive oil.
Business dining is also a big part of the interview process, especially if the job will include face-to-face client interactions. A prospective boss does not invite a candidate to lunch or dinner because she thinks he is hungry.
Her concern is how this person would fare in an unscripted and unpredictable social situation that may require any combination of good judgment, flexibility, humor, kindness, and consideration.
“That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset? Are they frustrated? Or are they understanding? Life is like that and business is like that.” He says it gives him a window into their hearts, not just their heads.
Prospective employers are also carefully observing how comfortable candidates are in sophisticated surroundings, how appropriate are their choices of food, drink, and conversation, how aptly they display dining skills, and whether they glance at their electronic devices.
A false step in any of these areas could cost an otherwise qualified candidate for a job offer.
One might agree that dining skills are important, but question whether the lack of them is an issue. It is. We have mentioned that one of the biggest obstacles millennials face in the workplace is their perceived lack of social skills, dining skills among them.
Scheduling demands put the family dinner on the back burner, so to speak. As a result, the basics of how to use silverware and engage in respectful conversations, and why the telephone is not answered during the meal, went untaught.
But if this theory is correct, it is not only millennials who missed out on these important lessons—a fair share of their older colleagues may have as well.