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7 Tips for proper office language

Friday September 14 2018

The way you speak communicates the amount of respect you accord your audience, including your colleagues.

The way you speak communicates the amount of respect you accord your audience, including your colleagues. PHOTO | FILE 

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It is common knowledge that what you say can be distorted by how you say it. The way you present yourself, and specifically in speech, has a huge stake on how your audience perceive the information that you share with them. And this is especially true when you get into the work setting. And if you have a mentor like the one I have, you will live every day of your life rehearsing your words and their presentation because you are powerfully aware of the damage or power that lie in these two aspects of your work life.

Let me breakdown a few things for you: the way you speak communicates the amount of respect you accord your audience, the state of mind you are in and your confidence level, just to mention a few.

This is in no way suggesting that you kick off authenticity in your personal expression and embrace a robotic demeanour just to look ‘proper’. Rather, this piece is an invitation to carefully mince words and in effect, improve yourself.

Well, as you might have guessed, these are, once again, lessons collected from my mentor.

1. Know when to speak

The gold in the silence begins to show when you know when to use the silence. Many people only keep quiet to wait for the other person to finish talking so that they, too, can put their point across. This is the wrong approach to things and worse if you are speaking to your line manager.


Listen carefully because speaking before you understand what you have been told means several things including: you will ask a question that has just been answered, you will ask a useless question or you will rudely interrupt your boss. That communicates lack of attention and haphazardness. You do not want anyone forming that kind of impression about you.

2. Think through your words

It is quite normal to feel nervous when speaking to our seniors, especially when giving a report of an assignment or breaking down processes.

I have found that making notes beforehand and even during the conversation has been very helpful for me; having something written down keeps you grounded and this does not matter if the presentation is for five minutes or one hour.

Having notes also prevents you from flying off to your head and rushing to the end. Another thing that making notes does is that it helps organise your thoughts and as you speak, your presentation will have a smooth flow.

This not only reflects well on you; it communicates confidence and seriousness, definitely a good thing for your recommendation letter!

3. Email vs face to face

Again, you will realise that there are situations that call for an email conversation and those that are better executed through a face to face chat with your boss. For example, if you were meeting a client who needed several things which in turn call for a string of clarifications from your boss, it might be a better idea to go to your boss.

Send an email to ask for a short meeting first and then go and see him. Very long emails, especially if you are writing to senior managers do not just cut it. Another situation where you may find yourself having to choose between emails and face to face is if there is confusion about something and clarification is needed.

4. Be conscious about your emotions

Emotions such as excitement, sadness, anger or even just being nervous can affect the way that we communicate.

If you are at work and are aware of such underlying emotions in you, please consciously work at suppressing them until such a time that it is appropriate to deal with them.

Here is the thing, if you speak quietly or angrily at your boss because someone in the matatu went away with your change, it is bad for your reputation.

And this does not just apply to your boss – your colleagues too should not be victims of your inability to put your emotions under control. Rule of thumb: do not reply emails when angry.

5. Suggest with precision

Precision is actually just a fancy word I have used to say that if you do not present a project proposal clearly, if your wordings are not clear and your sentences and illogically worded, maybe you should not be upset if your suggestions get thrown out.

There are patient managers out there but maybe the only reason they are still being very patient with you is because they are hoping that you will learn, eventually. Always have in mind the key points that you are putting across. Otherwise, you will short-change yourself.

6. Mind your language

This is clear. It does not matter if you are the cleverest person in the world, do not use swear language when speaking to your boss. Especially in Africa.

7. Last but not least, speak up!

Yes, work in tandem with your environment; the person that you are, the core values of the organisation that you work for and with the help of your boss and other senior colleague to learn how best to speak – how best to communicate in different situations and grow with this learning every passing day.