Snapseed and Wordswag create images and font styles for social media posts. LinkedIn and EFactor establish online networks. Prezi and Keynote offer design templates for slide shows. Business to customer relationships are developed through Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Effective business communicators use these new and modern forms to establish and maintain relationships with partners, competitors, and consumers.
But despite the technology that accelerates the speed of delivery and alters the forms of business communication, modern North American business writing continues to rely on principles that have defined effective business communication for centuries. To be an effective communicator, you will need to master both modern swag and old school charm.
Fortunately, both new and old share some general principles.
Business writing should be clear and direct. In December 1751, Lord Chesterfield wrote about the importance of “extreme clearness” in business writing, stating that “every paragraph should be so clear and unambiguous, that the dullest fellow in the world may not be able to mistake it, nor obliged to read it twice in order to understand it.”
Although we might object to the inflated language and overuse of commas in the Chesterfield excerpt, the message on the importance of clarity and conciseness is the same today. Modern communication forms like the 140-character twitter posts and instant messages illustrate the continuing preference for clear and direct messages.
Business writing should focus on developing and maintaining relationships. Business is about relationships—between stakeholders and business, between partners and competitors, and between businesses and consumers. Maintaining these relationships is key to your success.
Every message within, from, and to a business influences the relationships. In a 2012 post, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston described the frustration she felt after receiving a 43-page email outlining the terms and conditions of a rental car agreement. Gaertner-Johnston complained to National Car Rental that she didn’t have time to read all that. The company quickly offered an apology for the inconvenience and a summary of the main changes in the agreement. National’s emailed response, personalized in both the greeting and the salutation, appeared sincere. The response demonstrated a desire to continue the relationship, a relationship Gaertner-Johnston was then happy to continue.
Professionalism matters. Business communications today range from the highly formal cover letter and résumé and long reports to the conversational blog post and instant message. But informality does not license inattention or incompetence. Manipulating language and tone along the full spectrum from highly formal to conversational requires strategy.
Your use of language reflects your developing executive presence. The casual misuse of capitals, commas, and contractions has an effect on the way others perceive you. Attention to tone and style are especially important when you are a young because you haven’t yet developed the gravitas that comes with age and experience.
I have numerous examples of emails to me as a professor that illustrate the effect lackadaisical and inappropriately casual language can have, but I will share just one.
“Hey, prof, I wont be in class bc of an interview, let me knw if I miss anything. can I use you as a refrence?”
Yes, please do use me as a reference. I’ll have plenty to say.
“Yep, this fellas a real gem. hes a quick learner so probs will master hitting Spellcheck by next week.”
The forms of business communication are evolving, but no matter how casual the form, business communication should be clear, should focus on the relationship with the audience, and should be strategically crafted. If you find lapses in the business world in these three principles, I’d love to hear about them.