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The Beginner’s Guide to Professional Communication

Why didn’t we learn this in school?

Two young women laughing

Image courtesy Thought Catalog via Unsplash

By Allison Sanchez and Cara Hutto

In high school and college, we learned how to write a five-page essay on allegories and foreshadowing in classic novels and how to give a presentation on a Picasso painting, but not how to communicate in a professional workplace. Seems strange, right? 

The politics and unwritten rules of workplace communication are completely different from any verbal or written practices we learned in the classroom. You want to come across as enthusiastic, but not obsessive; knowledgeable but not a know-it-all. And like any interpersonal relationship, healthy and effective communication with coworkers goes a long way toward success and mutual respect.  

Here are seven basic rules to help you communicate like a boss. 

1. Be appreciative     

We’re all busy at work. When you’re caught up in the whirlwind of deadlines and stress, it can be hard to slow down and appreciate the people around you. But relaying your appreciation of your coworkers can make a huge difference—80 percent of workers feel they work harder when their boss is appreciative. In other words, making even small efforts to be kind and polite at work can go a long way toward your coworkers’ productivity. 

When someone helps you out with a project, say thank you. When a coworker provides you with data that helps you do your job, tell them so. Recognize your coworkers’ good work in a “public arena” (i.e., meetings). 

2. Don’t put anything in an email (or message) you wouldn’t want your boss to read

The internet is a (basically permanent) record of the things you say, and many workplaces monitor employee email accounts. That means your inbox isn’t the place to blow off steam about your terrible boss. If it’s not something you’d be okay being sent as a memo to the whole office, keep it to yourself. 

The same rules apply to messaging tools like gchat and Slack.

Read more: Your Guide to Handling Brown-Nosing & the Rise of Ingratiation

3. Be concise, but clear in your emails

Work communication is about quality, not quantity. Make sure you get the pertinent information out to your colleagues while keeping it short and sweet. Having to wade through long, confusing emails is not going to win you any points. 

Read more: How to End an Email That Gets Results

4. Never email while you’re angry

When conflict arises, it doesn’t help to be overly emotional in your communication. It’s okay to be super upset that a coworker took your idea or dropped the ball on a report, but wait until you cool down before addressing it. (See “permanent record” above.)

5. Always, always use spell check

They’re, their, and there have very different meanings.  

6. Keep a strong boundary between personal chatting and professional conversation

It’s great to be close with your coworkers, but you never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. So, while you might have a super funny story about a night out or a Tinder snafu, those stories are best saved for your friends outside of work, not your coworkers in the break room.

Not sure what’s safe to share or talk about at work? Here’s a guide to help: The 2 Kinds of Not Safe for Work

7. Be respectful of personal time

Nowadays, it’s easy to communicate with anyone anytime, anywhere. Try to keep boundaries between work and personal time. Reaching out to a coworker or employee at 10 p.m. to talk about a project or issue (that could easily be dealt with at work the next day) isn’t a good look and can cause unnecessary stress for everyone. 

Read more: The 6 Pillars of Professionalism in the Workplace

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