How to Avoid Professional Communication Faux Pas

Have you ever accidentally ended a phone call with an acquaintance by saying, “I love you?” or called a sibling by another sibling’s name? These types of social blunders often end in good-natured laughter and are soon forgotten. But the stakes are higher when you make similar mistakes in a professional setting. Depending on how grave your error is and who you’re addressing, you could end up facing serious professional repercussions. Here are six tips for avoiding common professional communication faux pas.

1. Be Careful When Sharing Your Screen

Whether you’re participating in an online training or working on a project with a remote coworker, you may need to share your screen at times. A screenshot app can help you do this quickly and easily. However, you first need to make sure you’re not accidentally sharing something embarrassing or incriminating.

Before sharing a screenshot or giving someone else live access to your screen, quickly peruse what’s visible. Now’s the time to exit out of that lingerie shopping tab and close the browser you’ve been using to search for other employment. It only takes a few seconds to make sure you aren’t accidentally sharing anything inappropriate. But this simple precautionary step can potentially save you from years of embarrassment and regret.

2. Put Your Cell Phone Away While Communicating

Have you ever talked with someone who started scrolling through their phone in the middle of your conversation? If so, you know how condescending it can feel when someone refuses to give you a few minutes of undivided attention. Don’t make the mistake of committing this incredibly rude communication faux pas yourself.

No matter how good you are at multitasking, it’s inappropriate to use your phone while someone at work is talking to you. Put the phone away until the conversation is over and give the other person your full attention. This advice applies to other types of distractions, as well. Refrain from checking your emails or using any type of electronic device while communicating with others at work.

3. Don’t Use Excessive Jargon  

When you’re talking to coworkers or clients, do you tend to use big words and complicated industry jargon? If so, you could be unknowingly pushing others away by making them feel perplexed, annoyed, or belittled. People who consistently use complicated jargon often come across as arrogant and out of touch with the average person.

It’s natural to use complex language when you want to make sure others know you’re an industry expert. Or you may just have a big vocabulary and assume others do, as well. But if you work on keeping your language simple and easy to follow, others will find it easier to converse with you.

4. Always Double-Check Names When Emailing

Most email systems have a convenient auto-fill feature that can save you time. It allows you to type in the first letters of someone’s email address and then it fills in the rest for you. But this feature can quickly become a nightmare if you aren’t paying close attention. If you have multiple professional contacts with similar email addresses, things could go wrong in a hurry.

Few situations can induce a sense of dread like realizing you just sent a sensitive email to the wrong person. Whether you’re writing about a top-secret product or a problem co-worker, never get in too big of a hurry. Always take time to double-check the name in the “To” line of your email. This goes for any emails you put in the “Carbon-Copy” section, as well.

5. Say “We” Instead of “You” When Suggesting Improvements

When managing other people, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying “you” when issuing directives or corrections. But this term can sound accusatory or make the other person feel attacked. To help employees feel more like they’re being invited instead of demanded to do something, try using the term “we.”

For example, imagine a new product launch date is approaching and everyone is on edge. Instead of telling team members, “You need to make sure you’re ready for the launch date,” try changing “you” to “we.” That way, employees will feel less isolated and targeted and more like they’re part of a group effort. Of course, there may be times when individual team members must be addressed privately regarding their behavior. But in general, aim to maintain “we” language to encourage a team mentality and inspire employees to work together.

6. Don’t Use Condescending Language

In the professional world, you never want to be known as someone who belittles others. Unfortunately, language that may seem perfectly normal to you could be perceived as condescending to someone else. To play it safe, avoid using any sort of pet terms or nicknames when addressing others.

In some cases, language barriers or cultural differences might make the offending person completely oblivious to how they make others feel. Therefore, it’s especially important to carefully analyze your language if you’re speaking to someone from another state or country. For example, if you’re from the southern United States, you might use the terms “darling,” and “honey” regularly. But these terms may come across as demeaning and sexist to people from other geographic locations.

No matter what industry you work in, you don’t want to be known as someone who commits social faux pas. There are many potential blunders you can make when interacting with others. But if you keep the above tips in mind, you’ll find it easier to avoid embarrassing situations during professional conversations. 

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