Communication Courtesies: The Currency of Today’s Workplace – a guest post by Steve Cebalt

I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with Steve Cebalt in the past, and I’m thrilled to share some of his thinking via this Content guest post. You can read more from Steve on his blog, “34 Waist.

“Communication Courtesies: The Currency of Today’s Workplace”


By Steve Cebalt

In communications, very small things can make a very big difference. Most of us do work that requires cooperation with others. In fact, in my job, almost everything is actually done by others — I just shepherd the process. And I have no authority over the people whom I work with to achieve my own goals. They are not employees; they are colleagues, vendors, clients, IT support staff, etc.  So I consider my actual “job” to be relationship-building. That’s what I actually do — others each do their part of the work of a project, but I have to get them to do it, not with any “stick” but with the carrot of cordial communications. That is my only authority — the authority I create myself by being friendly, respectful, courteous and pleasant. (At least those are my aims…)Consider some of the more subtle points of e-mail communication. Many of the people I deal with, I never ever meet; all my interactions with them are by phone or e-mail. So my e-mail is “me.” A few practices that I use to try to create cordial relationships:I ALWAYS use a greeting. Consider these two e-mail intros:

1. “Please send me the XYZ proof in time for my 2 p.m. meeting”

2. Hi Anthony: Would be able to send me the XYZ proof for a 2 p.m. meeting that I have?

Thanks so much!

Same core message. One  is a command; the other is a courtesy request. The difference in the way the person receives and responds can be vast. Now that I have pointed it out, watch for e-mails that you receive from people who jump right in with no greeting, and compare them with e-mails that greet you first, and you’ll see the difference.

I ALMOST always use a proper end-note:

  • Thank you, Anthony! –Steve
  • I’d be grateful!  — Steve
  • Talk with you soon!  — Steve

I do these things no matter whether the person is a CEO or a first-day intern; they all get the same courtesies. And if you ARE the boss, these courtesies are even more important! Nobody likes to be ordered around,even though you have the authority to do so.

Why bother? It costs nothing, and it makes e-mail more like normal conversation. You would not normally pass someone in the hallways and stop them and start a conversation without saying “Hi.” And when done, you’d say, “See you later.”

Exceptions: If Jason and I are working on a project  all day, exchanging e-mails, I’ll dispense with the courtesies after 2 or 3 e-mails — just like I would not say “Hello” to a cubicle-cousin 20 times a day. But my first e-mails of the day would have a “hello, hi, good morning,” or whatever is appropriate, along with the person’s name.

I could go on…choosing the right greeting for a group; for someone you don’t know; etc. It’s tricky sometimes.

But you get my point: Getting things done means working with others. Being nice and friendly in business communications is a unique form of currency: The more you spend, the more you get!

Have an opinion you’d like to share about today’s communication environment? Email me to suggest your idea for a Content guest column.

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2 Responses to Communication Courtesies: The Currency of Today’s Workplace – a guest post by Steve Cebalt

  1. Andy Welfle says:

    This is an interesting column, and it’s further interesting that you compare it to a currency. There’s an interesting concept called “whuffie” — started in a novel by a great sci-fi writer, Cory Doctorow, and later reinforced by referencing it to real-life by comparing social capital to actual currency. It seems to me you are taking that concept even further into person-by-person capital built up in trust!

    • Hello Andy: I find your reply fascinating. “Whuffie.” Who knew? I googled it and it is definitley a parallel idea. Of course the e-mail thing is just one aspect. I wrote a whole article on the value of being friendly and nice. You don’t do it expecting anything in return, but I can tell you I get such great service (and discounts and freebies) from my vendors because they like coming to our little shop, just because it’s fun and friendly. Being friendly is its own reward as a human being, but there are definitely measurable economic side effects!

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