Through ever-evolving communications technology, businesses have sophisticated tools for connecting with employees, customers, vendors and the public.
Yet, as businesses indulge in “collaboration technology” through smartphone apps, artificial intelligence, screen-data sharing and other tools, they shouldn’t overlook the ethical and economic value of these five basic business communication principles.
1. Tell the truth
An employer might need to issue a public statement on a massive unexpected layoff, or report a serious workplace injury to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Anger from employees and scrutiny from the public will likely follow the bad news. But employers should never let the fear of negative reactions lure them into suppressing the truth.
Fact-fudging or omitting nonproprietary but essential information in both internal and external messages jeopardizes employers’ credibility, and there's nothing more valuable to leaders than trust.
Obviously, businesses that market and sell their products or services through advertising are also mandated by law to tell the truth. The Federal Trade Commission penalizes companies that intentionally lie about or exaggerate their products or services’ capabilities, or issue false or unfair statements about competitors.
2. Check the grammar
Speed and efficiency make emailing, texting and messaging appealing. Thanks to technology, communicating in shorthand is not only acceptable but expected. But the rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation and proper word use still matter in formal business communication.
Written messages need checking for correct grammar, misspellings and punctuation errors. And since busy people also are time-strapped readers, messages should be succinct with no wordy or run-on sentences. Messages work best when sentences follow the simple subject-verb structure. The sentence “Figures on sales each month should be placed in separate reports in files in your computer’s folders” can be simplified to read: “Keep monthly sales figures in separate PC files.”
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Brad Hoover, Grammarly CEO, said that even though language is more informal these days with emailing, texting and tweeting, using good grammar is essential for expressing ideas clearly, precisely and professionally.
3. Strive for clarity
Don’t mystify readers; tell them the message’s purpose up front. Vague, conflicting, distorted or confusing messages confound readers and, worse, foster mistrust. Messages should aim for the average eight-grader reader’s comprehension.
Avoid industry speak. Every profession has its own language, with words, terms and expressions that its members use and understand. General business writing, however, should appeal to a broad audience by using commonly understood words and phrases.
Organize sentences and paragraphs to follow a logical sequence. Start the message by explaining the reason for communicating, followed by the “why,” “how” and “when,” if necessary.
To do otherwise could be costly for workers and employers. Complicated instructions for safety procedures, for example, could lead to on-the-job injuries and a rise in workers’ compensation claims.
4. Be consistent
Avoid explaining a new workplace policy one way in the employee handbook and a different way in an all-staff email. If the company’s name is not officially capitalized, for example, see to it that the name appears that way across all forms of communication.
Companies must maintain their brand whether communicating with employees or customers. Use text and visuals of the same style and quality for employee benefits materials and marketing campaigns.
Maintaining a brand requires integrating an organization’s website, intranet, social networking activity and marketing to create a unified impression.
5. Match tone with audience and topic
An email announcing the annual employee picnic should be upbeat and engaging to increase participation. A social networking blog should showcase an organization’s unique qualities and offer useful information in a friendly, professional tone. Announcing a product discontinuation, on the other hand, works best when the tone is business-like but apologetic to customers.
Courteous, sincere communication helps strengthen employee and customer loyalty. Language that insults, angers, stereotypes or belittles audiences is financially and legally risky.
In any case, words matter, and so do the tone they convey.