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Archive for the 'Communication Etiquette' Category

BT VideosWe're excited to launch a new series of brief videos that you can use to supplement your lectures. These videos address specific communication challenges and offer practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

We're producing two versions of each video. The instructor version concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies. The student version is identical except for the textbook information.

The first video addresses a challenge that every business communicator faces: how to share negative information without being negative. Here are links to both versions:

Instructor version

Student version

We hope you find these useful, and we welcome any feedback you might have.



Elements of ProfessionalismOne of the major benefits of the business communication course is that it helps students practice so many valuable skills, from research and analysis to organization and document design.

The course also creates an opportunity to incorporate these communication-focused skills into the larger context of being a business professional. We define professionalism as the quality of performing at a high level and conducting oneself with purpose and pride. It means doing more than putting in the hours and collecting a paycheck—true professionals go beyond minimum expectations and commit to making lasting and valuable contributions.

To give students a useful framework for understanding this concept of professionalism, we break it down into six distinct traits:

  1. Striving to excel. Pros are good at what they do, and they never stop improving. Remind students that communication is a set of skills that will benefit from the practice, coaching, and feedback they get in the course. And as with any skill, mindful practice leads to competence, efficiency, and personal satisfaction. Encourage students who are in the early stages of skill development to hang in there and take pride in incremental improvements, and emphasize that the ultimate goal of all this work is to help them share their great ideas with the world.
  2. Being dependable and accountable. Communication tasks offer myriad opportunities to practice the second aspect of professionalism. Students can demonstrate dependability and accountability by completing assignments on time, following instructions and guidelines, and producing quality content that audiences can count on. Planning and time management are crucial supporting skills here, of course, to avoid getting a reputation as someone who overpromises and underdelivers. Being accountable also means owning up to mistakes and learning from failures, which always provide opportunities to assess and improve.
  3. Being a team player. Professionals know they are contributors to a larger cause, that it’s not all about them. Great team players know how to make those around them more effective, whether it’s lending a hand during crunch time, sharing resources, removing obstacles, making introductions, or offering expertise. In fact, the ability to help others improve their performance is one of the key attributes executives look for when they want to promote people into management. Being a team player also means showing loyalty to your organization and protecting your employer’s reputation—a major concern in this age of social media. Pros don’t badmouth colleagues, customers, or their employers. When they have a problem, they solve it; they don’t share it.
  4. Demonstrating a sense of etiquette. Etiquette is a vital element of every form of communication, from one-on-one conversations to online messages read by millions. The general concept of following the expected norms of behavior is easy enough to grasp, but students may need some coaching and practice to identify and follow norms in specific situations. With writing assignments, encourage students to consider the impact that phrasing and wording choices can have on their readers. For messages dealing with negative situations, for instance, even subtle changes can shift the emphasis from productive problem-solving to destructive criticism. With class discussions and presentations, discuss how active listening and mutual respect can influence collaborative outcomes and working relationships.
  5. Making ethical decisions. True professionals conduct themselves with a clear sense of right and wrong. They avoid committing ethical lapses, and they carefully weigh all the options when confronted with ethical dilemmas. Assignments and class discussions that confront students with difficult ethical dilemmas are a good way to help them develop the ability to analyze situations and weigh the pros and cons of competing courses of action.
  6. Maintaining a positive outlook. Encourage students to study successful people in any field and notice how optimistic they tend to be. They believe in what they’re doing, and they believe in themselves and their ability to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Being positive doesn’t mean displaying mindless optimism 24/7, of course. It means acknowledging that things may be difficult but then buckling down and getting the job done anyway. It means no whining and no slacking off, even when the going gets tough. We live in an imperfect world, no question—jobs can be boring or difficult, customers can be unpleasant, and bosses can be unreasonable. But when you’re a pro, you find a way to power through, because one negative personality can make an entire workplace miserable and unproductive. Every person in a company has a responsibility to contribute to a positive, productive work environment.

If you have examples of how you use the course to promote professionalism with your students, please let us know in the comments.



To students and professionals alike, the rules of business etiquette can seem both complicated and fussy. Unfortunately, important issues that hurt relationships and hobble careers can get lost in worries over making sure one's cravat is properly starched or whether one is using all seven dinner forks in the proper order.

With tongue planted only slightly in cheek here, it dawns on us that a vast swath of business etiquette can be covered by one simple rule: Stop being so annoying. Establishing this rule as a foundation for workplace behavior would help curtail a host of unwelcome habits. For example, you've probably been put off by companies or colleagues who exhibit these behaviors:

  • Maintaining zombie communication channels, including email and voicemail accounts that appear to be active and alive but are in fact ignored by their supposed owners. Individual messages sometimes fall through the cracks, of course. We're talking here of the people who fail to respond to one or more messages and eventually explain that "Oh, I never check voicemail" or "I don't use that email account anymore." Owners of these zombie channels could save colleagues and customers a lot of grief if they would simply delete the accounts or at the very least indicate via outgoing message or auto-response that the account is not monitored.
  • Using weak passwords that make email and Twitter accounts easy to hack, resulting in streams of spams and scams for everyone on the contact list—and as a lovely bonus, a fresh batch of verified active email addresses for spammers to reuse and resell.
  • Publishing individual or corporate Twitter and Facebook streams that are 90 percent ads and look-at-me posts, with very little value-added content. Of course, no one is forced to subscribe to any content stream, but annoyance sets in when a person or organization promises to have a social media dialogue and then acts like an infomercial.
  • Failing to exercise enough self-containment to keep personal problems, emotional meltdowns, schedule disasters, and other issues from spewing all over everyone within physical or digital range.
  • Not making the effort to write or speak clearly. Communication skills vary widely from person to person, to be sure, but there's a big difference between being lightly skilled and being careless or thoughtless.

Not to discount the niceties of etiquette, but removing the negatives seems more critical to healthy business relationships than adding the positives—worrying more about the "don'ts" than the "dos," in other words.

Would emphasizing this angle make etiquette a more relevant and reachable topic for your students? Please let us know what you think.

 

Image credit: MirellaST



A recent opinion piece in the New York Times on new etiquette norms in the digital age caused a minor stir when the writer asserted that simple "thank you" messages are often rude because they waste the recipient's time. The writer's point was that there generally is no need to acknowledge receipt of information sent via email or other electronic channels—and doing so only contributes to the deluge of messages that many professionals are forced to wade through every day.

Wasting people's time by sending unnecessary messages is indeed thoughtless; we don't dispute that. However, a blanket condemnation of thank you messages betrays a misunderstanding of communication etiquette and communication in general.

First, thank you messages often serve as confirmation that information has been received, and this feedback is particularly important when the sender assumes that some follow-on action will be taken after the message is received. Between overstuffed in-boxes and overaggressive spam filters, email messages don't always reach intended recipients, and knowing information was delivered successfully removes one element of uncertainty from the process.

Second, relationship maintenance is often as important as information transfer, and even in this new age it seems safe to say that many people still appreciate being thanked for their efforts, no matter how minor. Moreover, not saying thank you would be awkward for many people as well. In other words, saying thanks can be emotionally significant for senders as well as receivers.

What do your students think? Do they tend to say thank you when they receive messages from you or each other? Do you expect them to say thanks?

 

Image credit: Jon Ashcroft