Professional communication

As the employee of an organisation you have a duty to communicate professionally with colleagues, clients, contacts, partners, and other people and organisations you encounter in your workplace.

Professional communication means communication in an appropriate and skilful way.

In general, professional communication is more formal than everyday communication with friends and family, but there are important exceptions. For instance:

  • You should always communicate in a less formal, more down-to-earth way with peer navigation clients and community members. This can signal that you are a peer — on equal footing with your client. In Australian culture, being overly polite to an equal can seem rude or distant.
  • You might be quite formal speaking with a clinician or care provider for your client, unless you know them well, in which case your tone might be more casual and friendly.

In these examples, you are choosing a communication style that is appropriate to your job and the relationship you have with the person you’re communicating with.

Compare the tone and style of these two opening statements for an e-mail — which is more formal?

  • Hi Dan, Look, re the issue we spoke about, I don’t think your approach is going to work…
  • Dear Daniel, Hope this e-mail finds you well. I’m writing to follow up on our earlier discussion…

A formal style is generally more polite and less direct. The first greeting skips the niceties (‘Hope this e-mail finds you well’) and goes straight to a direct statement of personal opinion (‘don’t think your approach is going to work.’) It would be more appropriate between two people who know each other very well already. Think about how you might write an e-mail breaking the same news to someone you did not know well — you would take care to avoid causing offence.

A more formal communication style is appropriate when you are contacting people you don’t know, or conducting negotiation or advocacy with other care providers on behalf of your client or organisation. This can help signal the matter is serious.

  • For instance, you might start a conversation by introducing your name, as well as your role, what services you provide, and your organisation and its purpose. This can help to establish your role in the client’s care team.

Some additional things to remember:

  • Never forget that e-mails can be saved or forwarded. This can remove them from their original context. Being polite and friendly is the safest option.
  • When you are on work time, calling on a work phone, talking to a work client/contact, or writing from your work e-mail address, or even talking about your work outside hours, you are representing your organisation and its values.

Exercise

You receive a missed call and a follow-up text message with a garbled transcription of a voicemail message. It’s from a nurse at a clinical service saying that your client cannot be admitted to their service. It is not clear from the message why not.

  • How would you approach communicating to reach a resolution to this situation?