5 Business Communication Etiquette Pet Peeves

I frequently work with my children to help them understand the importance of good table manners – elbows off the table, how to set a table, which fork to use, how to hold a fork and knife (and properly use them), which glass to drink from, and to never chew with their mouths open. Let’s just say it is a work in progress.

While these lessons seem obvious, you would be surprised how frequently we get requests for etiquette training for lawyers. But it’s a fact that how we present ourselves has a significant impact on our brand. If you are seated next to a lawyer who slurps his soup, uses the wrong fork and drinks from your water glass, how likely are you to hire him?

Like our table manners, our communication etiquette sometimes needs attention, too. After all, good relationships begin with good communication. As a communications professional, here are my five biggest communication pet peeves:

  1. Email Signatures: It is a best practice to include your telephone number in your email signature, even on the reply. In this day and age, a majority of our business is conducted without ever hearing someone’s voice. Sometimes, though, actually talking is the best way to communicate, and it is terribly frustrating to have to go digging through old emails, files and even paper notebooks to find a phone number.

If your law firm doesn’t already have a standard email signature protocol, now is the time to institute it. Use it as a way to market your law firm, being mindful not to overwhelm readers with too many ways to reach you. If you are including a graphic, make sure recipients can view it on a mobile device and that it does not make an email too large to open. Your clients will thank you!

  1. Grammar & Spelling: They’re/their, who’s/whose, you’re/your, it’s/its. Learn it, live it, love it. Sure, we all can make mistakes when using our smartphones and blame them on autocorrect, but there are some basic grammar rules that we as legal industry professionals should know.

In addition, try to tighten up your sentences. For example, “I thought I would connect with Jane to discuss,” can be rewritten as “I am going to call Jane to discuss,” or “Jane and I are going to discuss.” To put it concisely, be direct.

And take the time to ensure that you do not have any spelling errors. Readers will automatically assume the worst of you – and your intellect – if you misspell words. Spellcheck is not always accurate, so proofread your work. If you are not a great proofreader yourself, enlist the help of a colleague or a professional proofreader before you send documents to clients. With emails, take a few extra seconds before clicking send.

  1. Limit the Word “Just”: In the spirit of being direct, I want to share my dislike of the word “just.” Improper use of the word often weakens what you are communicating and implies an unspoken apology. I am certainly guilty of using it and am consciously trying to eliminate it from my vocabulary. For example, “I am just following up” suggests that I am sorry to bother you but have something that I think is important to say. “I just have to say” implies that what you have to say is somehow a side note.

Try eliminating the word “just” when you are asking someone to do something for you as well. “Can you just…” minimizes a person’s contributions. Count how many times you use the word “just” in a day, and see if eliminating it helps you become a stronger communicator.

  1. “At Your Earliest Convenience”: Be careful with this term because, when used the wrong way, it makes you seem lazy and unengaged. It is perfectly fine to ask someone to respond at their earliest convenience, but how do you feel when I tell you that I will call you back at my earliest convenience? Probably like I will get to you after I drink my coffee and check social media. For most law firm marketers, your “clients” are the attorneys in your firm. They are your most important asset. Make them feel that way, and avoid telling them that you will do something when it is convenient for you. Try “as soon as possible” instead. It feels much better!

  2. Emphasize Sparingly: When I receive an email that is filled with bold, underlined and all-caps words, I FEEL LIKE I AM BEING YELLED AT and that whatever isn’t emphasized probably isn’t important! Think about what you are emphasizing. Is it really crucial? As a general rule of thumb, focus on headers and deadlines to make sure that all of the content of your email is properly read and understood. Then think about using the signature at the bottom of the email to give the person a way to call to confirm.

All of the ways we present ourselves and communicate – both directly and indirectly – impact our personal brands. Making yourself available and easy to communicate with will boost your personal brand, make people feel good about doing business with you, and hopefully drive more business.

This post was written by Stephanie Kantor Holtzman of Jaffe Associates.,© Copyright 2008-2017
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Positive Media Exposure: Elevate Your Practice and Your Firm

Legal Marketing Association Southeastern Chapter

Your business is on the rise yet every time you scroll through your news feeds, read the newspaper, or watch a news show, you find your competitors highlighted everywhere instead of you and your business. You want this kind of coverage, but you are short on time due to your demanding work schedule, board activities, community involvement and family engagements. Dealing with the media also feels uncomfortable and you fear that reporters will not tell the story correctly. Sound familiar? This is what we discovered when we asked our clients (i.e. very smart lawyers we love to work with!)

To be fair, media interviews can be a daunting experience for almost anyone. These feelings are compounded by the notion that subject matter experts may believe that reporters and interviewers are out to get them. The truth is, the media should be treated just like a client. A great majority of reporters are cordial people who are assigned to cover a story on a topic. It is their job to talk with various sources, research the topic, and educate the public. Yet, almost always, reporters are on deadline while juggling other priorities assigned to them on any given day. Their challenge is to collect a depth of accurate information in order to inform the public and meet a tight deadline. Does that sound like a client? Have you ever received a call or an email from a client who needs to know the latest on a particular issue and has questions they need answered right away? It’s not that either is out to get you, rather each need to be educated so that they can succinctly and accurately inform their audience, be that a reader or a senior executive.

What you must realize is that the interviewee is often more knowledgeable on a subject than the interviewer, therefore you should approach the interview with full confidence and take advantage of the opportunity to provide useful and practical information. After all, this is your opportunity to shine and help educate the public. Here are some tips to ensure a successful media interview:

  • Similar to preparing for a case, successful media messages depend on preparation. Pick a story angle ahead of time and stick to it thought the interview. This bolsters your ability to serve as a subject matter expert.

  • Consider all of the difficult questions that may be asked and prepare answers. This critical step will help you from being caught off guard.

  • If you are asked a challenging question that you did not consider or are asked to talk about something that you simply can’t discuss, you can maintain control of the interview by using bridging techniques with phrases like: “before we leave the subject, let me add that …” “And the one thing that is important to remember is …” “While this is important, it is also important to remember that…”

  • Reporters love to use research and statistics in their stories as much as lawyers do. Feel free to prepare some stats and takeaways for reporters to help emphasize the story angle you are trying to promote.

  • Reporters are trained to listen. Just because a reporter puts away a notebook, a microphone or turns off a tape recorder doesn’t mean the interview is over and you can say anything without it being used.

  • Reporters hate when someone misleads or lies to them. They don’t like it when their stories have to be corrected through no fault of their own and because of inaccurate information provided to them. Accuracy is a gold standard for reporters. Help them achieve it and you can bet they will come back to you with another interview opportunity.

  • Instead of using industry jargon, speak in simple terms to appeal to the general public and potential clients. The reporter will most likely use those comments word-for-word which earns more thought leadership clout.

  • Body language can be just as important as words. Keep your arms loose and gesture naturally. This will help you appear calm and confident. Don’t cross your arms, your legs or put your hands in your pockets. Strive for a relaxed and happy face. Again, you are the expert who has the opportunity to share your knowledge.

  • Some reporters will ask you to spell your name on camera or tape so the editors can include it in the caption. If they don’t, be sure to spell your name and your firm’s name so they can include it in their story correctly.

  • Whether your story appears online, in print, radio or on television, don’t forget to engage in the digital space. Update your social media channels, website and blogs before and after the interview to continue the growth and expansion of your online brand.

Representing your business and knowledge base to the public is extremely important for you and your practice. Keeping these general media tips in mind puts you at a greater advantage to deliver a successful message and stay in front of your clients. With this said, remember to stay positive and have fun! And of course, call the Marketing Department or your public relations representative to work on a customized approach for each story.