Q. My husband and I were discussing the best way to handle poor grammar, punctuation and spelling in work emails and I thought Emily Post would have the answer. With all the poor writing on social media, many people are leaving school (even university) with poor writing skills. Once or twice is easy to ignore, but consistent mistakes can be frustrating and unprofessional. How can we best address this issue in an artful, polite manner?
K. R. W., Canby, Oregon
A. You are right, consistent mistakes can create an unprofessional image of the offender. Image matters in business. Whether you’re applying for a job or seeking a promotion or trying to land a contract, image matters. You are in the running for the job, promotion, or contract because you have the job skills. But if, especially in comparison to your competition, you engender an image that appears unprofessional, it could easily sway the decision against you.
The issue in your question is: How do you approach the person to discuss the problem? Let’s consider that the person is a colleague or an employee. You could ask to speak to him or her in private. Emphasize that you are broaching the subject out of genuine concern for his or her success. Have some examples handy and be ready with a solution. For example, offer to proofread external communications before they go out to help ensure they are clear of spelling or grammatical errors.
If the person writing the egregious emails is someone outside your company, there really isn’t anything you can do. Unless the person is a good friend whom you are convinced would take your critique in the spirit it was intended, it is probably best not to bring it up with them.
For businesspeople, the important take-away from this question is to make sure your communications are mistake-free. Obviously, your own proofreading is important. But don’t assume that your proofreading alone will catch all the errors. The best way to end up with a clean document is to ask another person, someone with good proofreading skills, to read over your message.
Not only will the person identify grammatical and spelling errors, they also can assess the communication for its tone. In reading your own writing you may not hear a tone that could be less than positive, but the proofreader will pick up on it and perhaps prevent you from sending a document that could have unintended consequences because of its negative tone.
Finally, get used to using the draft or send later buttons. Come back to the document five or ten minutes later and re-read it. And, if you read it aloud, not silently, you will “hear” the grammatical errors, and you’ll also hear what kind of tone your message is delivering.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
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.