Professional Communication Definition and Issues

It's the public face of you and your business

professional communication
"Effective professional communication is a 'moral' skill, that is, a practical skill but underpinned by a framework of values" (Inez De Beaufort, ‎Medard Hilhorst, and ‎Søren Holm, In the Eye of the Beholder, 1996). (Christopher Futcher/Getty Images)

The term professional communication refers to the various forms of speaking, listening, writing, and responding carried out both in and beyond the workplace, whether in person or electronically. From meetings and presentations to memos and emails to marketing materials and annual reports, in business communication, it's essential to take a professional, formal, civil tone to make the best impression on your audience, whether its members be your colleagues, supervisors, or customers.

Author Anne Eisenberg illustrates it this way: "What is good professional communication? It is writing or speaking that is accurate, complete, and understandable to its audience—that tells the truth about the data directly and clearly. Doing this takes research, analysis of the audience, and the mastering of the three interrelated elements of organization, language, and design and illustration." ("Writing Well for the Technical Professions. " Harper & Row, 1989)

Even if you're comfortable with your coworkers, you should still take the extra time to make your emails among them professional, correct, and clear. Becoming too lazy or informal in them (with grammar, punctuation, and spelling, for example) can reflect poorly on you if a message would happen to be forwarded to higher levels of the company or to human resources. Always keep them cordial, and reread for potential misunderstandings before you hit "send."

Social Media Reflects on Your Brand

With a bevy of social media avenues representing your (and your company's) public face, it's critical that the communications presented there represent you well. 

Author Matt Krumrie elaborates: "For professionals, their brand shows through on their LinkedIn photo and profile. It shows through with your e-mail signature. It shows on Twitter by what you tweet and through your profile description. Any form of professional communication, whether it’s intended to or not, reflects your personal brand. If you attend a networking event, how you present yourself is how people perceive you and your brand." ("Can a Personal Brand Coach Help My Career?" Star Tribune [Minneapolis], May 19, 2014)

Remember that what's sent in an email or posted on the Internet is very tough to completely delete, and if it's been saved by someone (such as in a forward or retweet), it's possible it won't ever completely go away. Have others review what you plan to post, not only for typos and factual errors but for potential cultural insensitivity. Even be careful of what you post on your personal sites and pages, as they can come back to haunt you professionally, especially if you deal with the public or customers in your job—or someday will want a job that does. 

Intercultural Communication

One issue in today's global, interconnected economy is the potential for miscommunication when dealing with people of other cultures if employees are not sensitive to the norms of people that they have to interact with—and a company doesn't have to be dealing with people across the globe for this to apply. Even people from across the United States have different ways of communicating. Someone from the South or Midwest might find the bluntness of a New Yorker off-putting, for example.

"Intercultural communication is communication between and among individuals and groups across national and ethnic boundaries," notes authors Jennifer Waldeck, Patricia Kearney, and Tim Plax. It can also come up in rural vs. urban or generational divides. They continue:

"Intercultural communication can become especially problematic for business communicators when they begin to believe that the way people in their dominant culture communicate is the only or best way, or when they fail to learn and appreciate the cultural norms of people they do business with." ("Business and Professional Communication in a Digital Age." Wadsworth, 2013)

Fortunately, companies have a wealth of resources available to them under the umbrella of "sensitivity training." Working with a diverse set of colleagues can help everyone understand others' perspectives. Tap into your colleagues to learn their points of view and prevent gaffes in your communications before they happen.