Three Business Communication Mistakes That Drive Me Crazy

Three Business Communication Mistakes That Drive Me Crazy

Gene Marks

When you’ve been running a small business for more than two decades like I have, you’ve probably seen a lot of ways that business people communicate. After I first graduated college, it was still written business letters and landline phone calls. Now, of course, those choices have exploded to include email, chat, text messaging, social media…and business letters and phone calls.

But even with all these substantial changes in the way we communicate, one thing has remained constant: people. People who still don’t use these tools the right way to communicate professionally. Which is why I’m still receiving communications so unprofessional I wonder how the person on the other end can ever move ahead in their business. There are lots of little things people do when they communicate that drive me crazy. But here are a few big ones.

1. Not Responding

If we don’t know each other from Adam, and I send you an unsolicited message, then you are perfectly within your rights to ignore me. There are only so many emails and calls we can respond to in a day, right?

But c’mon…if we do know each other, if we’ve met or spoken on the phone, or even had a previous email correspondence, then please…pretty please…could you at least respond to me when I email you? I don’t need much. Just a quick message. Just an indication that my email has reached you and has been acknowledged. Just a courtesy reply, no matter how short, that tells me that I’m just a little more than a speck of dust in your busy life? I get that sometimes not every message can be replied to. But, if I know you, please don’t tell me you’re “so slammed” or “incredibly busy.” Why? Because I know that if I offered you a million dollars to reply to my email, you most certainly would. So really you’re just choosing not to, which is insulting to me and all the other people you’re ignoring.

Not replying to people you know is not only rude, but it’s costly. If a salesperson is pitching something to you, it’s often because he or she may be offering something that can help you or your company. If a partner, supplier, or other business associate is reaching out, it may be because that person has information that could affect your profits. Ignoring people that you know risks offending them and losing potential opportunities. If you want to be in business, you have to communicate with people you’re doing business with. Even if you’re “slammed.” You’ve got the time. You’re just choosing not to spend it.

2. Writing Like A Kindergartner

Do you know the difference between “your” and “you’re”? Or “its” versus “it’s”? Do you have “alot” of friends or “a lot” of friends? Are you offering a “compliment” or a “complement”? I’ll bet you know the answers to these questions.

So, are you using these phrases—and other common phrases, terms, and words—correctly in your business communications? Are you capitalizing words that shouldn’t be capitalized? Hyphenating words that shouldn’t be hyphenated? Or, worst of all, abbreviating phrases like “LMK” instead of properly writing “let me know”?

Bad grammar in a business communication makes me crazy. To me, it reveals too many negative things about a person. It says that they’re too hasty, don’t pay attention to details, or, sadly, are just not very intelligent. It puts me off from doing business with that person. To me, if he or she can’t take the time to get basic grammar and spelling right, how do I know that they’ll do a good job on our project?

You’re not in kindergarten and you’re not Instagramming a funny photo to your friends. You’re in a business and you’re having a business interaction. I’m not saying you should be a Shakespearean scholar, but, for goodness’ sake, you have a professional responsibility to make sure your communications are grammatically correct. Use spell checker. Read your messages before sending them. If you’re not sure about a phrase or a word, simply Google it. This is not hard. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes, but the person on the other end of your communication will appreciate it. Not doing so is a costly mistake.

3. Ignoring My Preferences

One of my company’s suppliers is an older guy. Whenever he has something to discuss, he calls me and if I don’t pick up the phone—which is usually the case—he leaves long voicemails. I’ve told him countless times to email me, but he still calls. So I avoid him.

I prefer to communicate via email most of the time. I have customers, particularly younger ones, who prefer to communicate with me just by text messages. Others only go to my Facebook page or direct message me on Twitter. Communication in 2019 has vastly changed. Back in the day it was telephone calls and business letters. Today it’s that plus much more.

People have preferences. Almost as unprofessional as it is to not respond to someone else’s message is to continuously communicate in a way that the other party doesn’t prefer. If you have a customer who lives in China, would you insist that he learn English in order to communicate with you? If a supplier only accepts VISA, would you demand that she accept American Express?

People communicate better when they’re comfortable with the method used to communicate. If you want to avoid costing yourself an opportunity, it’s to your benefit to find out how the people you do business with prefer to correspond with you. Some may tell you to only send a letter. Others like to talk on the phone or send emails. A few may insist on a face-to-face. If the relationship is important and profitable enough, then you’ll need to adjust to their preferences.


I know the above reads like a rant, and that’s because it is. But it’s written with the best of intentions. I want you to succeed. I want you to have the best communications possible with the people in your professional life. Maybe these three things don’t drive them as crazy as they drive me. But I bet addressing them will improve your business relationships.

As a small business owner, you’re an expert, too. We want to hear about how you feel about business communication mistakes. Let us—and your fellow SBOs—know by sharing a comment below.

12 Responses to "Three Business Communication Mistakes That Drive Me Crazy"
    • Sheila Gee | May 30, 2019 at 12:22 pm

      RE: voicemail. I know that voicemail is derided these days as “old-fashioned” and passé technology, but I believe that voicemail well-used, can be more valuable than many other types of communication. Often, I receive “call me back” voicemails leaving me to guess the subject of the call. Not infrequently, when I attempt to return the call, I receive voicemail. If the caller had left me a message saying “please get me those widgets and call me so we can discuss”, valuable time would be saved. Personally, I often have trouble composing an email, perhaps worrying too much about structure, whereas I can leave a quick voicemail with pertinent details. However, I also find that my voicemail with the pertinent details is not reviewed – I get a return call saying “you called?” Yes, I called and left explicit information that you obviously didn’t listen to and now I have to repeat myself and we have wasted all the time between my first call and the return call. Exasperating.

    • Lisa Edwards | June 11, 2019 at 6:17 am

      Regarding “preferences” – obviously, the “older” gentleman prefers voicemail over email. You may prefer email, but he prefers voicemail. Your statement regarding preferences goes both ways.

      The more important lesson professionals must learn is to be open to ALL methods of communication when communicating in the business world. This idea of having “preferences” must be looked at as multi-faceted to meet with BOTH parties’ preferences and needs; ignoring a customer because he/she is not communicating “your way” is not only inconsiderate but unprofessional.

    • Dan Coursen | June 11, 2019 at 7:17 pm

      I completely understand where you are coming from with this topic. Sometimes, it isn’t even a matter of “stated” preference; it becomes a matter of “demonstrated” preference. For example, I include my company’s full address, phone number, and email address in my closing on emails. The implication is that I am content to communicate by any of the methods shown. In reality, I really prefer to use email over voice so I have a verbatim record of what has been said. I am willing to communicate by whichever method my client wants. I do not have enough clients to be that choosy. However, if you have a client or supplier who consistently gives no more contact information than their email address, this would seem to indicate their preferred communication medium.

      There is a middle ground and, yes, common sense does apply here. If you have only ever communicated by email with a person, then don’t “contact stalk” them. By this, I mean don’t look up their company’s web site, then their phone number, and try to call them. If they wanted you to call, they would have given you a phone number. Most likely, you will just get a voice-mailbox full of messages from other people who did the same things. Clearly they don’t check their voicemail or answer their phone, so just write them an email.

      You might be frustrated by others’ communication preferences, but you are running a business and a little bending might be necessary to accommodate clients and suppliers.

    • David Mark | June 12, 2019 at 1:40 pm

      I agree with the first two points wholeheartedly. But attempting to dictate how someone else communicates with you is unprofessional and will possibly cost you business. Are you not flexible enough to be able to communicate via letter, email, text message and a telephone call? If not, then I doubt that I would want to do business with you over someone else offering the same service but is more accommodating to my desires.

    • Linda Treadway | June 12, 2019 at 2:36 pm

      I totally agree with this!! I have a head of accounting at a vendor’s office that almost always ignores my emails until he is ready to respond! And THEY are working for US! That should make them more responsive, as we could drop them anytime but I’m not the one who makes decisions for my company – otherwise, I would! It only takes a minute to send a quick reply to someone just to tell them that you are busy but will get back to them! Also, I hate bad grammar on emails! It’s hard to believe how many people in business use the wrong version of your vs you’re!

    • Rachel Porter | June 26, 2019 at 3:11 pm

      I hear everyone. However, having encountered numerous customers that have complained to me about my competitors, I decided to change and be as easy to work with as possible, and always friendly and accommodating. Yes, it can be a pain on occasion, but the long term business relationships I have built, and the loyalty has been worth it. I have one customer that insists on doing everything via text, which i hate, but I humor her, until we are ready to commit paperwork to what she is ordering. Then I insist on email to make sure everything is clear, concise, and accurate. This is working quite well. But it does take an extra measure of organization on my part.

    • Jim Dunne | November 14, 2019 at 8:17 pm

      Good points, and well-written. Regarding #3, I would just add that if you choose voicemail, please speak slowly and clearly. I prefer email, because I am hard-of-hearing and have hearing aids. Oh hell – I am old and deaf! But often, people who call me don’t know that I prefer email. Not only that, but to show me how busy they are, they rattle off their name, number, and what they are calling about as fast as they can. After I have played the message back several times, I summon a few other people to listen, and they can’t understand it either. So if you choose voicemail, you have an obligation to make yourself understood. It doesn’t do me any good to say, “What?” in the middle of a voicemail!
      Also, back in the day when there were just business letters and internal memos, I drew conclusions about the author by the appearance of his letter — not just grammar, usage, and punctuation, but even margins and neatness. A dinosaur maybe, but I bet more of you still do that than you realize.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 18, 2019 at 10:35 am

        Thank you for the comment, Jim!

    • Dan Heusler | December 12, 2019 at 7:56 am

      Very well written! Thank You.

      • Chloe Silverman | December 12, 2019 at 9:00 am

        Thank you for reading, Dan!

    • Ellen Gordon | December 12, 2019 at 8:57 am

      I have been receiving a lot of unsolicited emails that start with “Hi, Ellen” or “Hey, Ellen,” which make me nuts. Call me old-fashioned, but if I am contacting someone for the first time, I never use that person’s first name. Also, the correct greeting is “Dear Mrs. Gordon” or “Good morning, Mrs. Gordon,” not “Hey.” I feel that the casualness of an unsolicited pitch leads one to believe that the vendor will be sloppy in a business relationship. Sometimes, if I don’t respond to an unsolicited email, the person will call my office and tell the receptionist that he/she is following up on “our” email correspondence. I absolutely refuse to deal with these contacts. Maybe I’m “missing out on an opportunity”, but so is the salesperson who will be bypassed for a competitor with more professionalism.

    • Amy | December 13, 2019 at 10:07 am

      It’s fascinating to me that this is an article about client preferences and yet you start with a conversation about how you avoid a client who prefers voicemail.
      I’m so confused.

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