Stripped down to its essence, communication is the exchange of information from point A to point B. Simple, right? But as anyone who’s played a game of “Telephone” knows, a lot can go wrong on the journey from sender to receiver. This article will list five business communication mistakes that will sink your messages in a hurry—if you let them.
Business communication mistake #1: Using the wrong tone for the audience
Many business communication mistakes can be avoided simply by considering your audience before writing your first word. When composing an email, it’s smart to be fairly formal unless you have an established relationship with an individual and understand their preferences.
Think about the mindset your recipient is likely to be in when they read your words. Think about your own mindset. If emotions are running high, step away and come back when you’re calm.
Remember that the tone you set in your written communication should reflect the tone you want to set for your brand, whether you are an individual or represent a business.
Business communication mistake #2: Communicating without a clear focus or purpose
Readers give the average email (if opened at all) an average of three seconds of attention. Electronic communication in general has conditioned us to have shorter attention spans. As a result, it’s more important than ever to consider the purpose of your communication and state it clearly, right up front, to ensure the reader can decide right away that your communication is relevant to them.
In an email, developing focus starts with the subject line. In 50 characters or less, use your subject line to:
If you can’t identify a clear purpose for writing, don’t waste your recipient’s time.
Business communication mistake #3: Not using the proper organization or formatting
Readers like it when ideas are communicated in a logical way, and according to the norms of the medium. A written report, for example, should include strong topic sentences; clear subject lines; headings and subheadings; lists and bullet points; and tables, charts, and infographics when they make sense. Regardless of medium, a wall of text is rarely inviting. Break up text with white space, images, and color, but don’t be haphazard. Be consistent with fonts and colors. If your business doesn’t have a style manual or brand guide, it’s a good idea to create one.
Business communication mistake #4: Failing to appropriately develop your ideas.
When crafting your message, be like Aristotle, the ancient philosopher who famously sought balance in all things. Aim to provide just the right amount of information—not too much and not too little—and to convey your knowledgeability and professionalism without coming across as a know-it-all.
Speaking of the Greeks, it’s always a good idea to employ the principles of rhetoric they developed more than two millennia ago. Consider the three rhetorical appeals shown in the graphic below. Individuals might respond more strongly to one rhetorical appeal or another, but in general, successful communication achieves a balance between all three.
For more information about the rhetorical appeals, read this brief overview from Louisiana State University.
Business communication mistake #5: Neglecting to properly edit your message.
Poor (or nonexistent) editing can ruin an otherwise perfect piece with focus, the correct tone, great organization, and well developed ideas. If spelling and grammar aren’t your thing, that’s perfectly fine! Own up to it and put procedures in place to ensure you’re sending the best communication possible. When you can, engage another reader who has strong writing skills. Otherwise, consider using tools such as Grammarly that go beyond the spelling and grammar checking features built into office software and web browsers. If you realize you’ve made a mistake, catalogue it so you can avoid it next time.
Elevating your business communication to the next level takes time and effort but is worth the reward. Here at Lexicon & Line, we’re passionate about helping agencies, businesses, colleges, and non-profits better connect with those they serve. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you improve communication in your workplace, reach out to us. We look forward to hearing from you!