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Business English / Advanced C1-C2


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Business etiquette – Tutorial

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Business etiquette is basically concerned with building relationships founded upon courtesy and politeness between business personnel. Etiquette, and especially business etiquette, is a means of maximizing your potential by presenting yourself positively.

Writing a business letter is not simply a matter of expressing your ideas clearly. The way you write a letter and the etiquette you use may have a significant impact on your success or failure in business.

Failure to observe correct business letter etiquette can result in you adopting an inappropriate tone, causing offense or misunderstandings, lack of clarity or purpose and hostility or bad relations.

The foundation of good business letter etiquette is ‘Think before you write’. You should be considering who the letter is addressed to, how and why? This will then influence style, content and structure.

Here are some of the main issues relating to good business letter etiquette:

Addressing the Letter

Always make sure you spell the recipient’s name correctly. It may sound simple, but you would be surprised at how many people fail to do so. The recipient’s name should include titles, honors or qualifications if deemed necessary.

Many people use the ‘Dear Sir/Yours Faithfully’ formula when addressing the receiver. Although this is acceptable for routine matters it is impersonal and should not be used when dealing with those you know, queries or complaints. With these the ‘Dear Mr…./Yours Sincerely’ formula should be adopted.

Once a certain level of familiarity is reached it is not considered bad etiquette to use phrases such as ‘Kind Regards’ or ‘All the best’ at the end of the letter.

Confidentiality

If the content of the letter is sensitive, personal or confidential it must be marked appropriately. Marking the letter ‘confidential’ will suffice in highlighting this fact. If you only want the letter read by the receiver without the interception of a secretary or PA, mark it as ‘Private’, ‘Personal’ or ‘Strictly Confidential’. If you have received such a business letter it is good etiquette to reciprocate and ensure that all future correspondence is kept at that level of confidentiality.

Style

Proper business letter etiquette requires that a consistent and clear approach, combined with courtesy, be employed. As a rule, aim to keep all business letters formal in style. Even when the receiver is familiar to you, it is advisable maintain a certain level of business etiquette as the letter may be seen by others or referred to by a third party in the future.

However, this does not mean you should use long or uncommon words to express yourself. This merely looks strange and makes the letter unreadable. It is best to read a letter first and consider whether you would speak to that person face to face in the same way. If not, then re-write it.

Letters should be signed personally. It looks unprofessional, cold and somewhat lazy if a letter is left unsigned. However, having a secretary or PA sign on your behalf is not considered a breach of business etiquette.

Humor

Humor can be used in business letters but only when the writer is completely positive the recipient will understand the joke or pun. From a business etiquette perspective it may be wise to avoid humor. This is because firstly, the letter may be read during a crisis, after receiving bad news, or on a serious occasion. Any other time the humor may have been appreciated but under these circumstances it may dramatically backfire. Secondly, the written word is open to misinterpretation. Your sarcastic or ironic remark may be taken the wrong way. Thirdly, it is possible that the letter may be read by a third party who may deem the humor inappropriate and pursue a complaint of some sort.

Responding

Good business letter etiquette calls for letters to be responded to promptly or within certain guidelines. This may normally be considered as 5 working days. If this is not possible then some sort of acknowledgement should be sent either by letter, fax, phone or e-mail.

Always use reference numbers or clearly state the purpose of the letter at the top, for example, ‘Re: Business Stragedy Meeting’. This allows the receiver to trace correspondence and immediately put your letter within a context.

When replying to points or questions the proper etiquette is to respond in the same order as they were asked.

Managing Conflict

Letters are often used for settling conflicts or disputes. Even in these circumstances there are rules of business letter etiquette that should followed.

If you initiate the dispute then,

1)      Explain and set out your case simply and clearly to the most appropriate person

2)      Offer information that may be required by the other party to help answer questions

3)      Indicate a time scale by which you expect a reply or the matter to be resolved

4)      If you are receiving the dispute then

1)      inform senior colleagues who may be affected or who may be able to offer assistance

2)      Submit all replies in draft form for a senior colleague to check

3)      Stick to the facts and the merits of the case and do not allow emotions to become involved

4)      Be polite, patient and courteous

Using business etiquette in all matters and especially in business letters will ensure you communicate effectively, avoid misunderstandings and maximize your business potential.

E-mail

Make the subject line specific. Think of the many messages you're received with the generic subject line, "Hi" or "Just for you." Not very informative or useful.

Don’t forward messages with three pages of mail-to information before they get to the content. In the message you forward, delete the extra information such as all the "Memo to," subject, addresses, and date lines.

When replying to a question, copy only the question into your e-mail, then provide your response. You needn't hit reply automatically, but don't send a bare message that only reads, "Yes." It's too direct and confuses the reader.

Address and sign your e-mails. Although this is included in the To and From sections, remember that you’re communicating with a person, not a computer.

DON'T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. IT'S TOO INTENSE, and you appear too lazy to type properly. This is still a written medium. Follow standard writing guidelines as a professional courtesy.


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