The most important aspect of any relationship—personal, casual, or professional—is communication. Personal communication usually happens between family and friends and can be anything from a face-to-face conversation, a text message exchange, or even personal journal writing. Personal communication can be extremely intense, but it’s often casual, although casual communication also includes interaction with people who are not our family or friends. The focus of this article, however, is professional and business communication, which involves interaction with those we work with, whether we have a close relationship with them or not.
Any spoken or written interaction that represents you to your coworkers and/or supervisors or represents your workplace is professional communication. It requires close attention to detail with regard to wording, the intended reader’s perspective, and the desired outcome of the message—in other words, you don’t want to offend or alienate the person you’re communicating with, especially if you need their cooperation, and most especially if they have authority over you. Professional communication often occurs within the culture of a particular workplace or industry and so may reflect the particular expectations and idiosyncrasies of that company. For a medical transcriptionist, examples of professional communication may include emails to QA regarding a detail in a medical report or to a supervisor to discuss a raise.
Many of us have trouble getting our point across effectively, and there’s often anxiety surrounding professional communication. Here are some common pitfalls and possible solutions:
Communication paralysis. When anxiety and writing or speaking combine, some of us become paralyzed, stumbling over words or staring at a blank page unable to begin. After trying for a while, the stress of the situation begins to pale in comparison to the stress of trying to express your thoughts, and you decide to forget it—at least for awhile. After this happens a couple times, you stop trying, you don’t discuss the problem that’s causing your frustration, and you don’t get the raise you deserve because no one knows you’re even looking for one.
This one is tough to overcome because it’s most likely rooted in fear—fear of public display, fear of expressing something unpleasant, fear of embarrassment, fear of revealing our (supposed) inadequate speaking and/or writing skills, fear of admitting we are upset, fear of being wrong, fear of authority, etc. It’s important to overcome this paralysis, however, because the alternative is to not communicate at all, which accomplishes nothing. If this rings a bell, try to pinpoint why communication paralysis seizes you. Once you know what you’re afraid of you can examine and conquer it.
A key to overcoming paralysis may be to use a template to help give a framework to your thoughts, and you can create this yourself by simply writing down what you want to say, in a rough draft. This captures your message and provides a starting point. A lot of business communication happens via email, which allows you to edit and polish your message before you send it. This can alleviate anxiety and is also effective when preparing for a phone call or verbal meeting. Of course, it’s important to send the message within an effective timeframe.
Flowery or jargon-filled language. Sometimes we lapse into extra-fancy language to appear knowledgeable, but this can come across as stiff, artificial, or pompous instead. For example:
Dear Boss: I wish to convey to you that I ascertained that the production for the purpose of the city’s usage has increased due to the fact that the new tool with regard to and for the purpose of typewriter maintenance is working. (43 words)
Strip it down and simplify. You can more effectively say the same thing with 26 fewer words, and you won’t come off sounding, well…ridiculous:
Dear Boss: The production for the city has increased because the new typewriter maintenance tool is working. (17 words)
Avoid acronyms unless they are well understood by your audience. Acronyms are common and don’t impress your boss, and an attempt to use them to impress others is AACB (absolute
and annoying complete baloney).
Not getting to the point. Sometimes we dance around an uncomfortable issue by using a lot of “softening” words or keep ourselves safe by apologizing a lot. We may adopt a
passive voice in an attempt to distance ourselves from the issue; this way, if it’s not well received, we don’t appear to own it. It’s a self-protective tactic that can result in muddying the message
because, instead of pleasing the audience with our respect, we require them to wade through apologetic tangents to dig for the message, which is annoying. For example:
Dear Boss: I’m sorry to bother you because I know you’re very busy and may not have time to review this right away. I need to ask you for time off on Labor Day weekend. I know this is next week, I realize, and this is probably too short of notice, so I totally understand that I might not get to do this. I know it is already being taken off by a lot of people already, but my family is putting pressure on me to ask for the time because they have planned a family reunion. It’s completely up to you, and I am happy to work instead if you feel that would be best.
This person simply needs Labor Day off for a family activity, and he’s afraid he’s waited too long to put in a time-off request. Some supervisors might feel a tug at their heartstrings or get a charge from the groveling, but most will simply read the request a couple of times to make sure of the message and then take a look at the calendar to see if he can be spared and if he has time-off hours accrued, all the while making a mental note of the lack of self-confidence oozing from the message. Something like this is more direct and better:
Dear Boss—Please consider my request for time off on the Friday before the Labor Day weekend.
It’s as simple as that.
Guerilla tactics. This happens when a frustrating situation becomes too much to bear and a flare of anger drives you to dial your supervisor’s number or march into her/his office in a huff, where you unload the latest details while looking at the ceiling and hyperventilating. Your account comes out in an emotional, disorganized jumble, but the troubled look on your supervisor’s face seems to validate your feelings. In retrospect you might realize, however, that her face showed an expression of pain caused by trying to make organized sense of your barrage.
How do you manage this? It’s normal to feel upset at times, and work situations often force us to tackle challenges and work with others in ways we don’t prefer, but it’s never okay to make others deal with you because you lost your cool at work. When you feel upset, take a deep breath and count to a million; take a walk, take a break, take yourself away from the situation for a little while so you can cool down. Don’t succumb to the temptation to speak harshly, especially if raised voices or tears are threatening. Instead, write down your thoughts to make sure you’re thinking logically (if you’re writing them down in an email DO NOT hit send until you’ve cooled down and had a chance to review your message in a calmer frame of mind). When you regain your composure, ask your supervisor for some time with the office door closed so you can speak calmly and effectively. You’ll make a lot more progress this way, and your supervisor will appreciate your rational approach.
Forgetting the niceties and realities. Business and professional communication is more formal than everyday conversation. When sending an email to a coworker, it’s a good policy to include a greeting and a signature as well as use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When sending an email to a supervisor, these things are an absolute necessity. Keep in mind that any written communication can be saved and/or shared, so don’t put anything in an email to your coworker that you would be embarrassed for your supervisor or anyone else to read. Even instant messaging systems, while more informal, maintain a record of what occurs there. Unprofessional conversations can be retrieved and reviewed, to the detriment of those involved. I know of a couple of cases where instant message conversations contributed to the firing of an employee. It’s important to remember that all communication portals at work are essentially public—not private. Keep it clean, keep it on task, and keep it courteous!
Another aspect of politeness is to respect others’ time. Realize your coworkers and supervisors are also working and your message may pull them off task. Check to see you approach them at an appropriate time, or make an appointment, especially if you will need more than a few minutes. Be patient.
Being too personal. “Keeping things professional” essentially means taking the personal aspects out of a situation and dealing logically with the facts. As a competent and reliable employee, this shows in your communication style.
A more impersonal voice is especially important for those who represent a company to others. There is no place for the mention of personal circumstances or internal company problems as excuses to clients or customers—even if these are the actual reasons. In this role, it’s your job to provide a professional face to the company you work for. Instead of citing your broken alarm clock or a fight with your spouse as reasons for missing a meeting where you were to represent your employer, offer a simple but sincere apology and move forward, focusing on any positive aspects and what to do next. Don’t detail confusion or failure in your department as a reason for a delay. Internal scrambling often results in valuable learning, but skip the play-by-play and use the outcome to respond with confidence and a plan for the next step. Telling an angry client he failed to understand something and caused his own problem is always counterproductive; leave out the blaming, no matter how justified it may be, and provide a concrete solution instead.
It’s been suggested that communication is 20% content and 80% tone of voice. Professional communication is all about establishing an appropriate tone. No one enjoys confrontation, but with the proper word choices and professional tone, nearly any subject can be effectively handled without offense or escalation. Fortunately, most workplace interaction is pleasant, brief, and non-threatening, and a businesslike approach helps maintain a positive and productive atmosphere that benefits everyone.
While business communication is best learned on the job, the skills you need to become a medical transcriptionist are best picked up at a medical transcription school. Browse through our medical transcription program and see if it fits your needs or call us for more details.