Workplace Basics: Business Communication and Etiquette 101

(This is Part II of a three-part series geared to prepare you for the work environment.)

Let’s face it, talk is cheap. But communicating–really getting your message across–can be priceless, especially in the work environment. There’s nothing worse than someone misunderstanding a comment in your e-mail or, even worse, misunderstanding the importance of their help on a project.

As you move from talking it up with friends in the college cafeteria to professional networking and communicating with colleagues, it’s important to understand the difference between “C U L8r” and “I look forward to this afternoon’s meeting.”

In a previous post, I spoke about some general rules of business communication. Today, I’d like to address a few simple rules about business courtesy, or business etiquette, as related to business communication.

Use proper language.

Most of our daily conversations are with people we know–friends and family. So, it’s not uncommon for us to use slang or other casual phrases while talking to each other. “Right backatcha.” “It ain’t nothin’.” “I’m really stoked about this job.” “Don’t have a cow!” While these phrases fit into casual conversations, they can be perceived as disrespectful to your boss or others who work with you. Remember to use proper grammar. You don’t have to use the Queen’s English, but be respectful of your peers who may not be “down” with your word choices.

Respond to messages timely.

The best rule of thumb is to respond to all messages within the same work day. Of course, there are times when you may need more time to gather the requested information for a colleague. So, return the phone call or the e-mail and let him/her know that you’re working on it. Unanswered messages can be interpreted as laziness or poor work ethic.

Follow up on requests

Always do what you say you’re going to do. When you don’t have good follow through, colleagues will not trust you and you’ll be perceived as sloppy or a weak team member.

Be an active listener/reader

In today’s busy world we are bombarded with hundreds of messages every hour–text messages, e-mails, phone calls, online ads, etc. So, it’s no wonder that we start to zone out a little bit sometimes. At work, however, it’s important to stay focused and pay attention to those talking to you. Avoid distractions like surfing the web while you’re on the phone. Read the full text of e-mail messages, rather than skim them. Really hear what people are telling you so that you can respond and act accordingly.

Look people in the eye

Not only does it show that you’re an active listener when you look people in the eye, but it helps build trust. When speaking with others, try to keep your focus on their face rather than darting around their office checking out photographs or other items. Work relationships are built on trust and confidence. Show respect by looking directly at each other.

Don’t be afraid to use the phone

While text messaging, instant message and e-mail tend to be a preferred way of communicating with others, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone! By calling someone and speaking to him/her directly, you can often eliminate misunderstandings and communicate more clearly. And, it helps build relationships. Some companies even have “no e-mail Fridays” and encourage coworkers to meet in person or talk on the phone, rather than rely on technology.

No text typing in e-mail

As u read this can u plz c y txt typing is bad? Unless you’re accustomed to typing and reading texting shortcuts, you probably had to stop and read that sentence slowly. Not everyone uses text shortcuts–and, typing that way just isn’t professional. So, keep the texting for your friends, not for e-mails to your coworkers.

Stay on topic

It’s really easy to get off topic in an e-mail or while talking on the phone. We all do it at one point in time or another–especially if there was a great episode last night of So You Think You Can Dance or a game between the Yankees and the Red Sox. But, try to remember that the person you’re communicating with may be short on time or simply focused on the task at hand. Keep your communication on topic as much as possible.

Get a good hand shake

There’s no way around it – having a good hand shake is imperative. You want to be able to grip the other person’s hand confidently without seeming weak or too strong. And, handshakes aren’t just for the men. Women need a good hand shake, too. Whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or greeting each other at a meeting, your hand shake can create a first impression or set the mood.

Be polite

Above all else, be polite. Hold doors open for those coming in or out behind you. Help coworkers carrying too many folders, boxes or other items down the hall. When you’re introduced to others, stand up from your seat and offer your hand to shake. Say thank you when others compliment you or offer help. These may seem like simple things, but you’d be surprised at how many people forget them or feel too busy to put forth the effort. The problem is, you never know who may cross your path again. If their first impression of you was “rude,” you’re not going to be off to a good start.


Communicating in the business world isn’t rocket science. Really, it’s all about respect. If you respect your coworkers, everything else will fall into place. Want some practice with business communication? Attend one of Sodexo’s hiring events or start networking with our recruiters. In my next and last post in this series, I’ll talk about some general guidelines on how to use and request leave from work, i.e. vacation and sick time. Until then, don’t forget to smile as you walk through the halls at work.



Derren is the Manager, Diversity Recruiting for Sodexo which is a leader in integrated food service and facilities management. He is responsible for managing the Sodexo Future Leaders Internship Program as well as executing diversity sourcing initiatives for both campus and targeted experienced hires. With over 14+ years of experience with Sodexo, Derren has had great success as a General Manager in the company’s Health Care Services division as well as in several positions within their Talent Acquisition Group. He’s an active corporate partner with the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH). Derren is an AIRS Certified Diversity Recruiter (CDR) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR). Follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, or just Network with Us.


Related posts:

  1. Workplace Basics: The Art and Science of Being Organized
  2. Workplace Basics: Understanding Your Benefits
  3. Personal Branding Basics: It’s All About Communication

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

  • Connect With Dan

  • Chelsea Rice

    Chelsea Rice is the editor-in-chief of the Student Branding Blog. She began her work for just before graduating from Boston University, where she studied journalism and minored in international relations.

  • Connect With Chelsea

  • Recognition

    • Recommended resource - The Washington Post
    • "A terrific way for students to learn about branding" - Lindsey Pollak
    • "Worth checking out" - Psychology Today
    • HR World's top 100 management blogs