April 18, 2024

Engage Brain First, Then Speak or Hit Send

By Sheila Gibbons Hiebert
Communication Research Associates, Inc.
Choose Local

Words matter.  Ask talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh, deserted by several dozen sponsors of his show after making crude comments about a Georgetown University Law student whose position on employer-provided contraception differs from his.  Limbaugh eventually apologized, saying “my choice of words was not the best.”

And how.

Limbaugh’s stock-in-trade is outrage, but his self-inflicted wounds illustrate that for everyone, even someone who trades in absurdity, as Limbaugh himself called it, there is a line that can be crossed only with some risk.  In your professional communication – with employees, customers, investors and government officials – it’s prudent to know where the line is and stay well on your side of it.

There are lots of traps in written and verbal communication:

  • off-the-cuff remarks in emails, meetings or social settings
  • speculation and gossip
  • any of the isms: sexism, ageism, racism, elitism
  • religion and politics
  • inappropriate comments via social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which seem to move faster than the speed of light
  • slang, which can be misinterpreted, especially across cultures and age groups
  • tone, which can profoundly affect reaction to your message.

If you think the fault line of what’s appropriate in business communication is fairly obvious, think of the times you’ve read or heard something that veered close to the edge, or went way over the line – and the impression that left with you.

Prepare carefully when you compose a talk, a business announcement, an article or report, a presentation. Ask yourself:  How do I want to come across?  Based on my choice of words and tone, how can I expect the organization I represent to be perceived?  Will my choice of words, and my written or verbal style, enhance my credibility with my audience, or will they make my readers or listeners skeptical about what I have to say?

Here’s another important thing to consider: If you’re making a public presentation likely to be covered by the media, will your content, your demeanor and the quality of your delivery hold up to press scrutiny?

If you want to be perfectly prepared for your business communication opportunities, we can help.  Visit us at www.communication-research.org.  Because words matter.