Don’t Call Me Buddy: A Quick Guide to Business Communication

September 22, 2011

At an age where most kids are wearing baggy pants, dying their hair, and using words like “ridic” and “yo,” I chose to build and run a multimillion dollar corporation. My friends and family often referred to my professional decorum as “smoke and mirrors;” though the outside world saw an energetic young professional, there was nothing but an adolescent kid behind the trap door.

Many times, customers or vendors were shocked. “Where is your dad?” they would ask, looking for the owner of the company. “I’m not sure what you mean?” I’d reply.

Maintaining this perception was critical to my success. Nobody wants to give their credit card to a 16 year old kid, especially not for a $5,0000 purchase. Keeping up a professional facade, then, became a calculated effort. It was more than the 800 numbers or the persistent use of plural form (“Our staff” meant my laptop, my cat, and I for the first year). It meant conducting myself with a minimum level of professionalism and savvy. Key among this conduct? How I communicated.

There are a number of faux pas I see every day in business, which are easily avoided. Cutting out these bad habits can greatly improve the way people perceive you, leading to increased comfort, and increased business.

Careful How You Address People

If we do business together, you probably should not address me as any of the following: “buddy,” “boss,” “chief,” “big guy,” “dude,” or “bro.” These terms are all belittling and patronizing. I am not a child, and even when I was, I took offense to them. If you’re going to use any of these terms, you might as well pat people on the head. Really rub the point home that you don’t respect them.

“Man” is borderline acceptable. “My friend” is completely safe, and should always be your go-to.

Use a Professional Communication Medium

Yep, I definitely want to discuss my personal finances over SMS

Unless you are text messaging your delivery driver or sending an urgent message to someone who is unavailable any other way, text messages have no place in business. Period. Cell phones are personal devices, and using someone’s personal cell phone number for business purposes borders on a violation of that barrier. Furthermore, 160 characters is hardly enough to conduct business, especially when small keyboards are taken into account. Text messaging back and forth is sometimes very bothersome, even for we GenY cell phone addicts. If it’s urgent, you can even pick up the phone without warning, though you know how I feel about phones. 

Instant messaging (Google Talk, AIM, etc) have become standard business practice in even the largest of corporations. Email can also be a nightmare, but is currently the accepted standard for business communique. Why is it a nightmare? Keep reading.

Remain Calm and Collected

Consolidate your messages. Don’t send me 15 emails each with one sentence or question. Send me a concise list of bulleted points you have accumulated (the “Drafts” feature of your email works well, you should try it!), or just email me that you need to chat on the phone. Oh, and don’t get me started on people who. send. a. few words. in every. instant. message. so. that. you have to. scroll. to read. one. simple. idea. Tape up that “enter” key until you earn it with a completed though in each message.

Jargon is ok. Slang is not. Learn the difference

Use Appropriate Language and Diction

Jargon is ok. Slang is not. Learn the difference. In many organizations, people still use buzz-speak and shorthand. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that, as it has various benefits for efficiency and community-building. Just don’t use slang. Somewhere between the formal prose you would use for a college essay and that which you would use at a bar with your friends, there is a happy medium. Find it.

Display Emotion Subtly and With Class

Finally, and this should almost go without saying, keep swearing, shouting, and unmetered displays of emotion to a minimum.

Acceptable: Saying “crap” or any equivalent swear word. High-Fiving everyone in sight. Exclaiming “Hell yeah!” when something goes well (as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of another). Raising a hand to your face as you utter “Damnit…”
Unacceptable: Jumping on desks in excitement, using any word you would not let a 12 year old use, slamming doors, pounding on desks, or any vocal volume that can be heard 5 offices down.


What are some pet peeves in business communication that drive you crazy? What good and bad communication elements have you seen in your office?

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