When I teach communications etiquette, I always start with The Four P’s. These four pieces of advice are the bedrock of positive, relationship-building communications. They are important whether the communication is verbal or written.
Public versus private. Think carefully not only about what you are about to communicate, but how you are going to communicate it. For instance, I once overheard a conversation a person was having on his cell phone while on a train. The person he was talking to apparently kept trying to discuss the qualifications of a candidate for a job. To his credit, the person on the train refused to discuss the issue, “I can’t talk about it right now, I’m on the train.” Silence, and then again his refusal. And again. And again until he ended the call. In this blog I’ve related numerous email and twitter gaffes in which a private message was sent using a public means of communication. Remember the Bulletin Board Rule: If you can’t post what you want to communicate on a bulletin board for anyone to read (or broadcast it using a megaphone), then don’t email it, tweet it, blog it, IM it, or leave it on a voice mail.
Proofread. Excusing your errors by putting a note at the end of a text saying “Please excuse typos; this was written on my phone” does not remove the impression that you are a careless person, it just reinforces it. Be particularly careful in today’s digital world because auto-correct can make you look foolish and spell check is no guarantee that everything is correct. Spelling is particularly important when it comes to people’s names. Before you write to someone for the first time, call the person’s office and double check the spelling of his or her name. Getting it right is expected; getting it wrong leaves you with egg on your face.
Pronunciation. Mispronouncing words can make you look like you don’t know what you are talking about. Mispronouncing a person’s name can be a fatal error, especially in a job interview or when meeting a new client . Take the time to find out how to pronounce a person’s name ahead of time. Doing so will ensure your meeting will start off on a positive, professional note.
Patience. Take your time when communicating, especially when replying. If you’re feeling a little frustrated, wait five minutes before returning a call so the frustration you feel subsides and isn’t heard in your tone of voice. When sending digital communications try using the “send later” or “draft” button. Wait a few minutes and then reread your message or ask a colleague to read it to be sure of its tone. Or, go into a quiet, private room and read your message out loud. You’ll hear the tone in your writing.
Remember, an ounce of prevention ….
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News." Follow Post: @PeterLPost.