Fellow Business English/ESL teachers, tutors and coaches, are you going to TESL Canada’s Conference in Niagara Falls this weekend? If so, let’s connect! I’ll be giving a short lecture titled “Business English Fundamentals: How to Teach It in the Classroom or Office!” My lecture is scheduled for Saturday, June 10th 2017 at 2:15 in the afternoon. I will be giving practical tips on how to understand the needs of students and immigrants when they want to improve their business communication skills, and tips on how to create your own assessment tool to use with them. I will also share with you the path from ESL teacher, to business English instructor, to self-employed Communication Coach! Hope to see you there!
Recently I was contacted by a writer for the business magazine “The Virago.” She was writing an article about women’s business communication and how so many women fear appearing “too aggressive” in their communication. Many women she talked to apparently felt like they had to add a bunch of smiley faces to their emails in order to avoid the aggressive stereotype and be listened to.
She wanted to talk to me about confident communication for women that will be listened to, and getting over the fear of being “too angry.” Here are her questions, my original answers, and her final article posted online that also includes other expert opinions. Enjoy!
Q1: In your experience/opinion do both men and women use the smiley face emoji in business emails? Do both genders use them with the same frequency?
A: In my experience not many people use the smiley face emoji in business emails, but they are gaining acceptance. The fact that we have adopted the Japanese term ‘emoji’ and people understand what it means is a testament to that. They were frowned upon (no pun intended) up until very recently. I used to teach people not to use emoticons in business writing right up until just a few years ago. These days they are acceptable if they are familiar (like a smiley face) and add insight to the sentences. I would say women use them a little more frequently than men, but I personally use them often and find them a valuable communication tool.
Q2: Is use of the smiley face emoji effective in emails or does it damage the reputation of the user?
A: It’s often hard for people to understand the exact intended meaning of just written or typed words, and that is why we have more miscommunication with writing compared to phone calls or face-to-face discussions. An emoji can be very useful to add clarity to a comment, so the reader understands that something was a joke or a playful sentence and not a sarcastic one or aggressive order. Here’s an illustration:
“Get back to work!”
“Get back to work!” 🙂
The first phrase may have been sent as a playful jab or joke, but how could we know for sure? It may accidentally hurt feelings or cause tension. In the second example, it’s clear we are teasing.
Regarding our reputation – it can be damaged if people in business think we are not serious of course. We don’t want to overuse the emoji or use obscure ones, and we do want to consider the familiarity of the reader as well. People that know us can ‘hear’ our voice when they read our emails, and in this case the emoji adds tone and should not take away from our reputation. Like everything in life, moderation is the key.
Another example: recently I wanted to give my receptionist a little “trouble” for leaving a small meeting room messy that I needed to use with a client. I walked into the room and saw the mess, took a photo of it, and got down to coaching. I emailed the photo to my receptionist and typed some statement to do with the ‘surprise’ and instructions to please check more thoroughly next time, but ended it with a smiley face emoji. J She wrote back an apology and a joke of some kind with a smiley face too. When I saw her in person next time there was zero tension. The smiley faces allowed each of us to know that the point was taken but there were no bruised feelings over it. Message received, emotions saved!
Q3: Does the gender of the user have any bearing on how an email’s reader reacts to smiley emoji use (or not using smileys)?
A: An emoji is a softener – it softens or lightens the tone of the phrase or sentence. Some people may associate that as more feminine or, like me, they may associate that with empathy and taking steps to have their message understood clearly, and without misunderstanding.
Q4: What is a clear and confident way for a woman to give those she supervises instructions or discuss a difficult subject with them over email without using the smiley face emoji? Are there particular words or phrases that are effective?
A: In general we should avoid discussing difficult subjects over email! That’s the best piece of advice I can give. It’s too easy to be misunderstood when emotions are high. It’s best to use email to arrange a face-to-face or phone meeting to discuss the situation. Other than that, it’s important for people to take emotions out of business reports, feedback or evaluations. Stick to the facts and avoid judgmental words like: always, never, good, bad, smart, lazy etc. As a manager you should focus your communications on dealing with behaviour, not the personality. Don’t “accidentally on purpose” make it personal when it doesn’t have to be.
Ric Phillips, Communication Coach
Final Virago Article: http://thevirago.ca/2017/02/24/emoticon-sending-wrong-message/
Do you ever notice how many people in positions of leadership in the business world can be friendly and casual in person, yet when they email or post a memo to staff they adopt a very formal, cold tone? Isn’t that a bit odd and counter-productive to all the rapport building previously done to win your confidence and loyalty?
For staff it can be akin to dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute you feel comfortable chatting with your boss or manager, and then next, you feel you are being scolded or talked down to through his/her writing. Here are the common traits of this problem:
1 – the manager adopts on reflex a “boss’s tone” without realizing it, often because it’s the way it’s been done at the workplace before (particular office culture)
2 – the manager feels a serious, formal tone sounds ‘professional’
3 – the manager hopes the formal, professional tone encourages staff to take him/her (more) seriously
4 – the memo has long business English words and phrases that sound ‘intelligent’
5 – the memo is filled with instructions, demands and orders, not inquiries, questions or polls
6 – using CAPS unnecessarily
It doesn’t have to be that way. I encourage members of management and team leaders to consider having a consistent message with their staff, customers, tenants, vendors etc. Of course writing still must avoid street slang, but it can certainly get its message across while being positive in tone and engaging, and still maintain professionalism. The key communication tip I’m suggesting is to use a consistent, conversational tone that still deals with the key issue or topic, but does not create distance.
Here are some quick examples of suggested changes:
To all Staff:
Please be advised that you will NO LONGER be able to use the common area for eating lunch. Please eat your food in the designated lunchrooms only.
Just a quick note to ask you to please eat your food in the lunchrooms only, and not in the common area. We want to keep that food-free as much as possible.
Mr. Smith / Team ABC Co.
Dear Valued Customer;
Our records indicate that you have not paid your last invoice. Please remit payment within the next 5 days to avoid late fees and potential legal action, as per the customer agreement.
Mrs. Doe, ABC Bank Manager
Dear Mrs. Smith,
We are reaching out to you as we have not received payment from the last issued invoice. If you have paid it already, please accept our thanks. If you have forgotten about it, please send us the payment as soon as you can. If there is a concern with your invoice please call us immediately so we can work with you to sort it out. We would like to help you avoid any late fees associated with this payment.
Mrs. Doe, ABC Bank Manager
NO food or drink beyond this point!
Please do not bring food or drink beyond this point. Thank you!
It’s not the words that I/you choose as much as it’s the emotional vibe or feeling associated with the note. We can absolutely be a respected manager or boss and still use an approachable, casual and positive tone in our emails and memos. We want to be consistent in person and in writing, and we want to continue to build rapport with our staff and customers. Give it a try – you will be happy you did. In all honesty, wouldn’t you rather work for or with a Dr. Jekyll instead of a Mr. Hyde?
Be clear, confident and successful! Don’t let a lack of high-level communication skills hold you back.
Advises Ric Phillips, a Communication Coach since 2006. His clients include professionals and politicians.
A few years ago, I met Ric Phillips at a local networking group and found him friendly and easy to talk to.
Recently, I asked him 3 Business Communication 101 questions. Here’s what he had to say:
1) In this digital age, what are the essential business communication skills?
Ric Phillips: There are several essential communication skills needed for a successful business relationship, but specifically considering the digital age, I would say:
1 – The ability to build rapport in person and over the internet and phone. Business requires not just human interaction, but humans to like each other. We are not motivated to work with someone or buy something from someone whom we dislike.
2 – Sense the tone. Especially considering texts, emails and VOIP calls, we need to be able to understand not only what is truly being said and meant, but how to ensure our communications going out have a minimal chance of being misinterpreted as snobby, sarcastic or demanding, to name a few potential threats.
3 – Public speaking and presenting… (Please continue reading by clicking the link above (Source link below photo) or https://thejennreport.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/3-questions-with-communication-expert-ric-phillips/ to get to Jenn’s full blog post and finish the article. Feel free to comment and share! 🙂