Here we look at commonly made errors, best avoided:
1. Incorrect salutation and common mistakes in addressing
There are different ways to address people ranging from Mr, Mrs or the preferred Ms through to Prof., Dr and other titles. Guidelines are available to us in each case. Please use them.
In addition, when writing to a neutral sounding name do a background check on the person’s gender in order to address them correctly. This is fundamental in the service industry where you have a direct relationship with the person to whom you are talking. Addressing a “Hilary Jones” as “Ms. Jones” becomes an embarrassing faux pas when you discover that you are dealing with a male Managing Director. Yet it is so easily avoided. There are many non gender specific names: Andrea, Alex, Chris, Lesley, Jamie to name just a few. Do a little research and get your salutation right.
The next step can be equally tricky. What is the best form of addressing a business associate? In parts of the Western world it may be OK to reply in following correspondence to Peter, Katherine or Edward using Pete, Kate or Ed. Though one should always wait for the addressee to give that leeway. The world, it seems, is filled with too many people who are eager to cross the bar and jump into the area of over-familiarity. However with some Europeans and most Asians over-familiarity is never far away.
The modern practice of e-retailers using algorithms that automatically picks up on just part of a person’s name is unprofessional bordering on rude. It simply is not acceptable for businesses to address people they don’t know in this manner. How hard can it be to use Mr or Ms? Any email that starts “Dear Hancock” instantly registers in my mind as a forerunner to a letter about a dead millionaire uncle in Nigeria. It may seem a little conservative to start a communication with Mr or Mrs, but it is the safest and most professional way of doing business.
2. Using SMS language or other acronyms
Slowly but surely text speak is creeping into our lives. Don’t be part of the process. It is never acceptable to use text language in a business communication. When mobile phones first arrived in our lives, text speak was, I suppose, an understandable evil. With modern smartphones, complete with increasingly accurate spell checking systems, it isn’t really necessary even when talking to friends. It certainly is not acceptable when addressing a potential client or associate. Almost a bigger sin, the use of punctuation is becoming a dying art in the lives of some people. They argue that it isn’t really important but it is. There is an enormous difference in “helping your uncle Jack, off a horse” and “helping your uncle Jack off a horse”.
Using text speak in official communication shows you in a bad light, makes you appear lazy and worst of all, not very bright. Similarly, acronyms can be extremely contextual and country specific. Officially recognised acronyms such as UNICEF, NATO, and AIDS are universally acceptable and understood. Business terms such as CEO, KPI, HTML and B2B are of course universally used. However LOL, WYSIWYG and the dreadful OMG are not and never should be. The increased use of text speak is pervasive and is affecting many people’s ability to communicate.
3. Sending email attachments
Attachments used wisely are a great tool. However in the world of business communication, they can be hugely irksome if used incorrectly; especially when the receiver is using a hand-held device. As a general rule it is always best to avoid sending attachments. Even if requested, it is important to keep them to a minimum.
4. Being over familiar
It is not cold or stuffy to keep a correct business tone to your correspondence. Conventions are useful and professional. People with busy lives sometimes slip and the lines between their professional and personal lives get blurred. Starting a correspondence with “Hi There” sets the wrong tone from the outset. Ending one with “Do call me,” is not only grammatically clumsy, but also makes the sender come across as pompous and presumptuous. Becoming too friendly instead of retaining a professional warmth puts you firmly over the line of decorum; making you appear as a pushy and even worse, arrogant.
5. Never trust the autocorrect or spell check completely
Autocorrect has been known to change ‘Goldman Sachs’ to ‘Goddamn Sachs’, ‘Dear’ to ‘Dead’, ‘Public’ to ‘Pubic’ and hilariously ‘meeting with clients’ to ‘mating with clients.’ As clever as these tools are, they do not know what you are thinking and can only react to the closest alternative to the mistaken word that you have typed. Autocorrect sometimes appears to possess a brain of its own and can put not only your job but even your reputation in danger.