To impress people with professionalism can be challenging. Here are some communication rules that I 1) find helpful to people working as a team and 2) personally preach & practice.
This article does not apply if:
- you deliberately want to impede your colleagues’ productivity (for reasons like office politics), and/or
- you work in an industry that prefers euphuism to efficiency. For example, if you are a poet, you might appear untalented if you follow everything I write below.
Note: Hereafter, I use Slack as an umbrella term for team instant messaging apps, including Google Chat, Facebook Workplace, and Microsoft teams. I do not personally endorse this piece of software, nor am I implying that people are naturally wordy on it.
Check the basics
- Spellcheck what you write! Misspellings make you look unreliable, and they are not easily indexable by search engines. Isn’t it annoying when you want to look up something you sent out months ago, but the search bar failed you, so you resorted to crawling up the chat history, only to find that you have misspelled?
- Be grammatically correct, because no one want to be responsible for mishaps caused by misinterpretations. “Invite your manager and mother” is completely different thing from “invite your manager and your mother”.
- Be informative, truthful, relevant, and clear. This is Grice’s Maxims of Conversation.
What to avoid
- Don’t just say “hi” in a message. This behavior is so frowned upon that there are not one, but two websites for that.
- Don’t use
@allin a channel, unless all the members of the channel should read it immediately. Further info can be found in this post.
Some suggestions from the Sense of Style:
- Cancel out double negatives. Your listeners might be primed to think that you’re a negative person if you use negative words frequently — It’s psychology!
- Remove “very”. It contributes little to your prose. As suggested in the book,
Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
- Avoid using nouns when you can use its verb form. Verbs are more forceful and thus effective, provoking actions.
Things to do
- Enlist your points. Lists are easy to check. You don’t have to add transition words between your points to compose them into one single essay. You work in tech, not in publishing.
- TL;DR-ize your speech if it will be lengthy. This article is a good example it self: My points are grouped into separate lists with their own headings.
- List action items at the beginning or end. See how I put this “things to do” at the bottom?
- Write intention/motivation/intended audience at the beginning. This helps you stay focused to serve your target readers. It is also serve as an early exit for those who are not, avoiding a waste of their time.
- Annotate/caption your images, especially when it might be ambiguous. However, don’t overdo it. Here’s a funny counterexample:
People (generally) can tell a human from a puppy. Don’t patronize.
- Cite where you got each piece of information, so that people can refer to them and check if your claims are still up to date themselves. It also helps you remember on which facts your conclusions were based.
- Prefer Slack over email to avoid many problems. Prefer emails over meetings for better archival/note-taking results.
Hope you find this article useful. Admittedly, you might have seen these advices somewhere else already. In a next post, I plan to emphasize on a rare practice that I follow: Always answer simple questions (do you, have we, is there, …) with a yes/no first. Follow my blog and stay tuned!