Instant Messaging – Friend or Foe?

As the 21st century gathers momentum, it is bringing with it the increased expectation that we will find rapid answers to our questions – at home and in the workplace.  The internet has opened up a whole new medium for researching, gathering, sharing and receiving knowledge very quickly.  This is backed up by more and more options when it comes to communicating with our peers: telephony (in particular, mobile phones); emails; text messages; video calls and instant messaging; to name a few.

When used in the right way, the increased ability to communicate clearly and quickly can only be a good thing.  However, what happens when good manners and sensible protocols are discarded; when communication becomes a distraction to the task in hand?  Instant messaging is perhaps the best example of this very real danger.

Designed to enable a quick exchange of dialogue between two or more participants, it can be a great tool to obtain a fast response to an urgent query.  All too often though, instant messaging can be a devil in disguise as it encourages bad grammar and poor meeting etiquette.  It can also be the source of bad manners and that is never a good thing in business.

  • Bad Grammar – by its very nature, instant messaging encourages us to use poorly constructed sentences; words are often also abbreviated or written phonetically in a kind of ‘text talk’.  This can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.  In extreme cases, it can lead to participants completely misunderstanding each other – without even realising it.  If you are familiar with the abbreviated form, LOL might be interpreted as ‘Laugh Out Load’ but what if the recipient is only vaguely familiar with this form of communication and interprets it as ‘Lots Of Love’?
  • Poor Meeting Etiquette – have you even been in a meeting with someone whose attention is suddenly distracted by an instant message which they then proceed to answer, leaving you hanging mid-sentence?  This sort of action is a distraction to everyone in the meeting and can cause you to lose valuable time while the message recipient responds to their message and then takes time to re-engage with your own discussion which was already in hand.  The same principle applies if you are having a one-to-one conversation with someone.
  • Bad Manners – this really encompasses both of the above and potentially more besides!  Needless to say, there is no place for bad manners in good business.

BIG’s Conclusion: When it is used correctly, instant messaging can be a fantastic tool that can be used to improve business communication.  But it is all too easy for us to slip into bad habits; more often than not we become the perpetrators of bad actions without even realising it.  This leads me to conclude that we must all be vigilant so as to avoid falling into the trap of poor communication.  So, take time to reflect on your own actions and circumstances: is instant messaging a friend or a foe in your life and in your business?

Check Your Communication Skills

Use the following checklist to assess your communication skills and then focus on areas that require improvement. This will help you to develop skills as a leader:


  1. Do you pay complete attention to others when they are speaking?
    (A wandering focus discourages open communication.)
  2. Do you manage your thoughts during a conversation, focusing them on understanding what the other person is saying?
    (Effective listening requires more concentration than any other form of communication. If you are thinking about anything other than what the person is saying, you are defeating your ability to understand.)
  3. Do you postpone preparing your reply until after you have heard everything the other person has to say?
    (Thinking about what you plan to say while the other person is speaking prevents you from understanding what that person is saying.)
  4. Do you ignore distractions, such as other people, ambient noise, and the surroundings?
    (Attending to distractions makes you appear uninterested, unfocused, and rude.)
  5. Do you make eye contact during a conversation?
    (Watching a person’s face shows that you are paying attention. You also gather non-verbal messages, which can convey most of the important information being conveyed to you.)


  1. Do you convey confidence, courage, and strength during your conversations?
    (A pleasant manner will encourage people to trust you and to tell you more. Negative behaviour conveys weakness, insecurity, and fear.)
  2. Do you react calmly to bad news?
    (Anger frightens people into avoiding you.)
  3. Do you encourage others to speak freely?
    (Appearing interested, asking questions, and treating others with respect encourages open communication.)
  4. Do you use a diplomatic, positive vocabulary?
    (Talking about what you want is more forceful than talking about what you do not want, will not do, or cannot do. This means that you will avoid using the word “not.”)
  5. Do you seek solutions?
    (Seeking approval, culprits, or excuses, discourages communication.)


  1. Do you stick to the subject?
    (Introducing new unrelated issues confuses the other person and degrades the quality of your conversation.)
  2. Do you maintain a “you” focus?
    (Speak in terms of what the other person needs, wants, and understands because that enhances the impact of what you say.)
  3. Do you avoid games?
    (Asking trick questions, setting traps, and making others look bad will cause people to avoid you.)
  4. Do you use a linear, logical approach to explaining things?
    (Make it easy for others to understand what you are saying because it is more efficient.)
  5. Do you use common terms?
    (Avoid jargon and flowery speech because these impress only the person using them.)

Effective leaders answer “yes” to all of these questions and that is one of the things that makes them so successful.

Successful Business Relationships

How can we begin to build successful business relationships?

Successful business relationships are based on Value, Competence, Trust, and Propriety.

Value:  The customer’s perception of your worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance.  Value addresses the customer’s question, “What can this person or company do for me?”

Value can be articulated by explicitly answering these questions throughout the sales cycle:

  1. How  much? (what the customer can expect to gain by doing business with you — in increased sales, lower costs, etc.).
  2. How soon? (when the customer will be able to receive the value).
  3. How sure? (proof that the customer will in fact attain the value stated).

Provide reassurance to the customer so that there is little question of what the customer can expect from you: “We have a track record of providing a 15% cost savings and 90% product availability within 2 days of order.”

What are benchmarks that your customers can expect you to live up to?

Remember, it is YOUR job to tell your customers what value they can expect — customers shouldn’t have to work to figure out the value themselves.  If you don’t explicitly quantify the value your customer can expect to receive — and your competition may be doing this work for your customer — who is going to win the sale?

Competence:  The customer’s perception of your skill, knowledge, and experience with respect to them or their business.  Competence addresses the customer’s question, “Can this person or company do what they say they can do?”

Competence is demonstrated by the following:

  1. Completing and implementing an organized and logical sales approach.
  2. Conveying an understanding of the customer and their business.
  3. Demonstrating research and knowledge.
  4. Substantiating your capabilities.
  5. Involving team members appropriately and on a timely basis.

The perception of competence is gained over time.  As you work these guidelines into your approach to your customers, you will gain credibility and enhance your business relationships.

Trust:  The customer’s confidence in your integrity, ability, and intent.  Trust addresses the customer’s question, “Do I trust this person?”

Trust is demonstrated by the following:

  1. Using third-party introductions.
  2. Providing a letter of recommendation (objective references help build credibility).
  3. Displaying honesty, candour, empathy, and respect (show that you’ve done your homework, show a concern for their time and issues).
  4. Conveying win/win intent (concern for positive outcome/success for both parties).
  5. Above all, substantiate with action:
    – Establish a track record of follow-through.
    – Set new benchmarks (guidelines for expected behaviour that are agreed and can be counted on).

Propriety:  The customer’s perception of the appropriateness or properness of your actions with respect to them or their business.  Propriety addresses the customer’s question, “Is this person behaving properly or appropriately?”.

Part of exhibiting propriety is in the way you present yourself.  Over half of others’ perceptions of you is based — at least initially — on your appearance.  Therefore, take care in your physical appearance, mannerisms, vocabulary, and business etiquette.  If your first “appearances” occur on the phone, pay special attention to your tone, enthusiasm, and vocabulary.

A second, critical part of demonstrating propriety involves your adaptability to other people.  In business, the Golden Rule — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — is not always the most advantageous approach.  In fact, if you treat others as you want to be treated, you may end up ignoring their needs, wants, and expectations, which may be completely different from your own.

You must be astute enough to recognize others’ needs, wants, and expectations AND you must be flexible enough to treat people the way they want to be treated.

Relate to your customers in a way that makes them feel most comfortable.  This decreases “relationship tension” and increases trust, credibility, cooperation, and the commitment to work with you.

Build your business relationships — and your future — by focusing on these critical elements of Value, Competence, Trust, and Propriety.