You know that saying about not getting a second chance to make a good first impression when you meet someone?
Well, when you’re communicating with someone, especially if it’s electronically or by phone, you get even less slack—particularly when it’s for work. That’s when lost opportunities can have bottom-line consequences.
If you want the prospect to open your email, the client to return your call, or the journalist to read your pitch, you’ve got to communicate impeccably.
Here are some of my favorite basics:
1. Voice mail greeting
Smile when you record it. You don’t want to sound perky, just pleasant. Listen to the difference when you record the message while wearing a happy face—it might surprise you.
2. Email subject line
Never leave it blank. This rudely assumes that whatever you have to say is so important that the recipients will open it anyway. Think of the subject as a headline. Tease the main point there. A short, catchy, specific subject is sure to get a quicker response than the dreaded “following up” or “hi.”
3. Email message body
In a business-related email, leave out the emoticons, especially when the message is being sent to your superiors or more than one person.
4. All communication
Ask or notice if the recipient has a preferred way to be contacted. Some live and breathe through texting. Email is best for others. And others still want calls. Your message will be received more effectively if it comes in on the channel your audience prefers.
5. Phone calls
When on a phone call, be present. It’s obvious—and disrespectful—when callers are distracted and multitasking. If it’s not a good time to talk, just say so, and arrange another time to speak.
6. Conference calls
Thankfully, many conference calls are muted by the moderator or administrator. But if the one you’re on is not muted automatically, do so anyway. It is so annoying to hear someone munching, typing, or snoring (yep, I’ve heard that) on a conference call. Even background noise can be distracting.
7. Conversations in person or on the phone
Allow the other person to finish their sentence. It’s polite and civil, and helps keep conversations that way, too.
But if necessary to interject—and sometimes it is—use a trick like: “So allow me to stop you there…” Or, “To clarify, I’d like to ask…” Or, “OK, so to respond to your point…”
9. “I’ll have to get back about that”
No problem. Just make sure to do so. And promptly.
People (peers and managers) know who’s listening and contributing—and who’s checking their phones. Participate and respect the task at hand.
11. Starting a conversation
Whether popping into someone’s office or calling them on the phone, take a moment to ask if it’s a good time.
12. Written communication
The tone of voice, facial gestures, and other communication clues are absent in a memo or an email. Make sure to use please, thank you, and other signs of manners in written communication. Those soften a tone that, otherwise, can sound colder or harsher than intended.
Becky Gaylord worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and Sydney, Australia, before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. You can read Becky’s blog Framing What Works. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most blog.
This article originally ran on Ragan.com in December 2012.