Life after graduation

Top 5 Communication Do’s and Top 5 Don’ts to Avoid at Work

Learn how best to communicate with your coworkers, and what not to do.

What is good workplace etiquette? If you haven’t worked in an office or professional environment before, you’re probably unsure. While it varies from office to office, there are some general guidelines for how to communicate at work. Here are five practices to adopt, and five to avoid at your job or internship.

Do follow good email etiquette

  • Keep it concise. People are busy and receive a multitude of emails every day. If they open your message and it’s a mini novel, it’s likely they’ll close it if they’re busy. Or, they’ll quickly glance through it, go toward the end to find your main point, and move on. It’s best to keep your emails as concise as possible. Include the background information they need to know, and what questions or requests you have for them.
  • Be specific in subject lines. A great subject line summarizes the main point of your email. This helps your recipient understand the purpose of the email—and they can quickly search for it later when it’s buried in their inbox. Something general like “Question for you” or “Project request” is not helpful. “Marketing plan for June 15 campaign meeting” is an example of a subject line that includes useful details.
  • Be careful with “Reply All.” Before you hit “Reply All” in a large group email, think about who really needs to be included. If your response is only meant for one person, or a smaller group, select “Reply” instead and include people individually. And be careful with company-wide messages—you don’t want to “Reply All” to those!

Do ask questions and actively listen

When you’re in a meeting or talking to coworkers, put away distractions so you can concentrate and listen. When someone is speaking, don’t think about the points you want to make, or what you’re going to say in response. Be present and listen to them, so you don’t miss anything or reiterate something they’ve just covered.

And if you’re unsure of something or need more information, always feel comfortable asking questions. Work is your opportunity to grow and learn, so don’t worry about asking a lot of questions. Your coworkers will appreciate your curiosity and desire to learn—and you may bring up a question that someone else in the room was scared to ask.

Do be respectful

You should always speak to your coworkers in a respectful, polite manner. Even if you disagree or are having a difficult discussion, always live by the golden rule—treat them the way you’d want to be treated. Don’t raise your voice, don’t be rude, and definitely don’t curse. 

The same goes for your body language: don’t cross your arms or roll your eyes. These send a message that you are closed off, not listening, or being dismissive.  

Do ask for—and accept—feedback

Most organizations have a formal review process every six months or year. But you don’t need to wait for the review cycle to ask for feedback from your manager. If you don’t have regular one-on-one meetings on your calendar, ask your manager if they are open to this. This way, you can have real-time feedback on your projects and performance—and there won’t be any surprises during review time!

Remember that no one is perfect and everyone, including your manager, receives feedback and constructive criticism from time to time. Do your best to not take it personally, and don’t become defensive during these conversations.

Take the feedback seriously and do your best to incorporate it moving forward. Feedback reviews are there to promote your professional development and learning, so welcome it as an opportunity to grow in your career.

Do discuss sensitive topics privately

If you need to discuss a confidential or difficult topic, you should meet with your manager or coworker privately. Ask them if they have a few minutes to talk with you, or if they prefer a set meeting, send them a calendar invite. 

It may be helpful to organize your thoughts and talking points before the meeting. For example, if you are having difficulty with a project or colleague, write down a few notes that will keep you on topic and provide necessary background to your manager. Additionally, brainstorm a few potential solutions that you can discuss. That way, you aren’t just bringing them a problem and relying on them to solve it for you.

Don’t be too casual

Avoid using emojis, multiple exclamation points, and non business-related abbreviations (SMH…), especially in email. Depending on the employers, it may be ok for in-office messaging like Slack. But be aware of how your coworkers communicate, and wait until you’ve been in the organization a while before going the more casual route. When in doubt, it’s best to be polite but professional across all platforms. 

Don’t interrupt 

In meetings, or in one-on-one conversations, always wait for your colleague to finish speaking before you begin. This goes back to the ‘be respectful’ rule—be courteous to your coworkers and let them finish their thoughts. Interrupting someone is rude, and tells your coworkers that you believe what you have to say is more important than what they have to say.

Likewise, if you need to talk to a coworker, but you can see they are busy—don’t interrupt them. Wait until they aren’t typing, on the phone, or speaking to someone else. You can always send them a message and ask them to chat with you when they have a few minutes. If they have a ‘do not disturb’ setting on their messaging, or a focus time hold on their calendar, you should wait before sending them a message.

Don’t discuss controversial topics 

Think of work like the Thanksgiving table: try to avoid politics, religion, and other controversial topics, because it’s bound to get uncomfortable for someone. Even if others are engaged in a conversation like this, don’t throw your hat in the ring, whether you agree with them or not. You never know if you’re making other people uncomfortable. So, it’s best to change the subject or walk away. 

Don’t bring personal business work

Do you best to put your personal phone out of view, and don’t make personal calls at your desk. If your phone rings and it’s important, excuse yourself and take the call from outside the office. If you need to schedule an appointment or call a family member back, save it for lunchtime.

Likewise, don’t carry on long conversations about your personal life at the office. A little bit of non-work related talk is fine, but if you’re chatting about your dog’s birthday party at your desk for 30 minutes, it’ll look like you’re slacking off—and be distracting to those around you.

Don’t participate in gossip 

Unfortunately, this is still something that you may encounter in a professional setting. It’s never a good idea to talk about your coworkers negatively or share gossip behind their backs. Gossiping makes you look untrustworthy and unprofessional, so don’t be tempted. If someone else starts gossiping to you, don’t engage with it and find a way to change the subject.