Communication Etiquette

The way you communicate in writing or over the phone is sometimes more important than communication in person. This is because people may not be able to see your body language or hear your tone of voice. So word choice is imperative. Avoid ambiguity and jokes that could be misinterpreted.

Letter Format

Letters are still the most formal mode of communication, though they are seldom used now with electronic types of communication. Even with e-mail, it is still important to know the format of a formal business letter:
  • Use 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper.
  • Write in single space.
  • If the letter is not printed on letterhead, type your address, not including your name, at the top of the letter.
  • Skip one line. Then write out the date.
  • Skip one line. Then type the recipients name, title, and address.
  • Skip one line. Write the salutation, including the recipient's title, last name, and a colon.
    For example, write, "Dear Mr. Peterson:"
  • Skip one line. Write the short body of the letter.
    In the first part state the purpose of the letter and identify your connection to the recipient.
    In the second part, describe what you want.
    In the third part, make the specific request.
  • Skip two lines. Close your letter with "Yours truly" or "Sincerely."
  • Then skip three lines to leave room for your signature, and type your name.
See a sample cover letter for an example of a formal business letter.

E-mails

Many people think that e-mails can be more casual and less grammatically correct than writing letters or speaking in person. That may be true in the case of friends or family; however, in business e-mail you should not address the recipient in a more casual tone than you would in person (i.e. Mr. Smith in person should stay Mr. Smith in e-mail). And though e-mail is a quick and convenient mode of communication, you should still use correct English. Take time to check for spelling, grammar, and proper usage.

Faxes

Faxes are great for sending quick copies, but unsolicited faxes can be very annoying. When faxing, always send a cover sheet indicating the number of pages being faxed. Never send more than five pages without notifying the recipient before hand.

Phones

More and more business transactions are done over the phone, and phone interviews are a pretty common procedure. So know the proper protocol.

Making Calls

  • Be mentally prepared to make a call before you dial. Know with whom you want to speak and what you want to say or ask.
  • Always introduce yourself right away.
  • When leaving messages, speak slowly, and leave your number twice: once at the beginning of the message and once at the end.

Receiving Calls

  • If you are actively job seeking, leave an application log next to your phone. Having quick information about the status of an application will save you from having to ask recruiters to tell you who they are and will keep you from seeming unorganized or desperate.
  • When receiving calls for others find out who's calling before you say whether or not the person is in. When asking who is calling make sure to ask permission to ask; that is, phrase your question something like this: "May I ask who's calling?" This will avoid alienating the caller.

Cell Phones

  • Turn your cell phone off during meetings; answering your cell phone in a meeting gives the impression that those around you are less important than any other person who might call.
  • Try not to answer the phone when you are in restaurants; if you are expecting an important call, let those you are dining with know, and when you receive the call, excuse yourself, leave the table, and make the call brief.
  • Be aware of how loud you talk on a cell phone in public places and create space by moving at least two arm lengths away from those around you (or out of the room if possible).