Professional Primer: Communicate with respect and professionalism

Written on Feb 21, 2018

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA content manager

Professional Primer is our series to help you navigate the tricky world of business etiquette. Read past posts online here.

The way you speak with your coworkers and clients depends on a lot of different variables, like how long you’ve known each other and what you’re discussing. No matter the situation, it’s important to remember you’re in a professional environment.

“There isn’t necessarily an ‘informal’ in business that’s appropriate,” said Karen Hough, founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, a training company that teaches improvisational techniques as a tool for business. “I always treat any communication with any client with a huge amount of respect.”

Meeting someone for the first time is when you need to be at your most formal. Hough advised using Mr. or Ms. unless you’re invited to use a first name, and remember to say please and thank you. Little details like this can go a long way when it comes to first impressions.

Don’t overcomplicate things when it comes to conversing with coworkers either, whether it’s with someone you’ve known for years or a superior. Be polite and avoid using slang or bringing up any inappropriate topics.

One of the biggest mistakes millennials make in these situations is not thinking before they speak, Hough said. Coming into a business environment after being in a college atmosphere for four years can be jarring, but it’s important to take cues from others.

“One of the best things you can do is observe, watch what other people are doing around you and figure things out for yourself,” she said, “before you say and do a lot of things that later might make you feel sorry you weren’t a little more patient.”

So how does this translate to email? Remain just as professional, and remember that what you send through email can be saved and reread later. If you’re requesting something from a client, think ahead and be sure to give enough time to respond, Hough said. The last thing you want is to appear panicked because you need something immediately.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sound robotic in your emails. Hough said she employs a fun, lighthearted tone in her emails, but they’re always professional and never inappropriate.

And of course, always reread for any spelling errors or typos. “And I know that sounds so base level, but sometimes it can get lost,” Hough said. A couple minutes of rereading an email can save you from an embarrassing mistake later on.

Communicating in the workplace comes down to one thing: respect.

“We’ve got to be really thoughtful about communicating with anyone, in any context,” Hough said. “It really doesn’t matter what level of person you’re speaking with, they all deserve to be treated with respect.”

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