Communication (And Cash) Is King!

Phone, fax, and E-mail have made it easier to keep in touch, but haven’t done anything to help us communicate more effectively. If anything, there’s more confusion, especially about which methods of communication are most appropriate for different situations.

We asked experts about the best way to talk to clients, chat with coworkers, or write to customers, and all of them gave the same basic advice: Home-based workers should know their medium’s ground rules and express themselves accurately. Follow these tips and you’ll be heard and read more clearly.

E-MAIL

When to Use It E-mail is best used for conveying key information, confirming appointments, documenting decisions, or contacting a decisionmaker directly, says Nancy Flynn, a Columbus, Ohio-based consultant and author of Writing Effective E-Mail ($11; Crisp Publications Inc.).

How to Get the Most From It Choose Your Words Carefully

E-mail combines the immediacy of a phone call with the permanence of a letter, so don’t write something that might be misconstrued as sarcastic or insulting, cautions Flynn.

Follow Basic Writing Rules

Something about e-mail leads people to adopt primitive grunts and arcane symbols, but this is no time to be sloppy, says Flynn. Conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation will always help your message be more easily understood.

Hello and Goodbye

Don’t ignore greetings, closings, and subject lines, recommends Flynn. They don’t just convey your contact data and the subject of your note, but also help the reader file away or act on the information contained within.

Keep It Simple

Many e-mail programs let the writer add a variety of font and color effects. Don’t. Chances are the recipient’s program can’t translate them, so you’re just wasting your time.

Don’t Shout

Something about e-mail leads people to use uppercase and lots of exclamation marks. Let the words themselves add emphasis, says Flynn.

Biggest Faux Pas

Bandwidth abuse-sending 5MB worth of image files to a client with a 56Kbps dial-up Internet connection will only cause headaches. Instead, use the phone first and ask what sizes and types of files are welcome on the other end.

FAX

faxWhen to Use It Faxing is often the easiest way to send complete documents for signature, drafts for approval, or notes to an associate who doesn’t have e-mail, says Karen Lawson, president of Lansdale, Pa.-based Lawson Consulting Group, which does management and organizational consulting for businesses.

How to Get the Most From It

Call Ahead

Many home-based workers don’t keep their fax machines on all day, employees at large corporations don’t always check their inboxes, and many people simply don’t want to pay to receive long fax documents, says Lawson. Calling prevents missed faxes, allows you to verify a number, and alerts the receiver that potentially sensitive documents are on the way.

Target Your Fax

Make sure your document has a professional-looking cover letter or header with the recipient’s name, business, and fax number, along with your name and contact information. This way, whoever picks up your fax knows where it belongs.

Follow Up

The only way to guarantee that your fax got to its destination is to follow up with a quick e-mail or phone call. But don’t overdo it: If you sent an unsolicited fax, your recipient may not appreciate subsequent messages.

Biggest Faux Pas

Sending personal or classified information–unless your recipient has his or her own fax machine, there’s no way to ensure confidentiality. Try courier services or overnight mail.

POSTAL MAIL

When to Use It “Snarl marl” is still a great way to send complicated materials, long documents, or formal thank-you notes and invitations, says George Harmon, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

How to Get the Most From It

Summarize Key Points Near the Start Don’t put important info at the end of your letter or memo. If it’s a long document containing important business matters, insert a one-paragraph summary at the beginning.

Eschew Obfuscation

Try to cut down on jargon, pleads Harmon. “The worst offender is M.B.A.-speak–that ‘value-added, synergistic’ way of talking” he says.

Avoid Passive Voice

This rock-solid approach to writing has gone mysteriously AWOL, according to Harmon. “The sales report was reviewed by the executive committee on Thursday” changes easily into the much more direct and active “The executive committee reviewed the sales report on Thursday.”

Break It Up

Use brief points. Bulleted items aid the reader’s natural tendency to skim for key words. Harmon suggests that sentences should average 15 to 16 words, but be varied in length to avoid a “clip-clop” rhythm.

Biggest Faux Pas

Overreliance on your spell-checker–read your work before sending it, to avoid duplicated or misspelled words.

TELEPHONE

When to Use It

The phone’s ability to convey emotion makes it the ideal medium to use when a face-to-face meeting is impossible but delicate business must still be conducted.

How to Get the Most From It; Know Your Audience

Some people like to make small talk during business conversations, while others want to cut the chatter and cut a deal, says Deb Haggerty, president of Positive Connections, a management consulting firm in Orlando, Fla. Assess what type of caller you’re talking to and go with the flow.

Make Appointments

You set aside time to meet with someone in person, so why not make appointments for important telephone calls? By booking a specific time, you can be assured that the party you are calling will be focused on the conversation, and likely will have done some prep work beforehand, making the call more productive.

Listen

Listening is a lost art, says Christina McCale, marketing manager for US West’s Extended Workplace Solutions division. “So often we don’t let the other person finish, or we let call waiting interrupt a call,” she says. To stay focused on the speaker, try framing questions to elicit more detail from a person’s last remark.

Biggest Faux Pas

Multitasking while using a speakerphone–the other party can almost certainly hear that keyboard clicking while you respond to someone else’s e-mail. Stay on the subject–it ensures you’ll never miss a key point from the call.

2 Responses to “Communication (And Cash) Is King!”

  1. Early D says:

    I prefer talking to my clients using the telephone. Yeah, the emotions are clear when talking through this device. Also, I get the answer in no time.

  2. Letty Borgmann says:

    I communicate with my clients through email. The message gets to the client at once. It keeps a record of our conversation which they can use for future reference.

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