After a lengthy absence, I’m back. Yes! And I’m looking forward to sharing more of my ideas about effective business communication with you. Having recently been on the receiving end of someone’s bad business behavior, I’ve been thinking about one very important aspect of business communications — how you never want to let your words come back to bite you.

I’m sure there are times when a person’s behavior, be it a client, a colleague or your boss, makes you want to tell her or him off. You’re just itching to blurt out exactly what you think of the person because you’re angry, frustrated or upset with her/him. Don’t! Once burned, it’s not so easy to go back and repair the bridge. And your poorly chosen words are sure to come back to bite you.

Case in point: an employee of a company with whom I have been doing business was asked by his boss to take a Language Lab online business writing course. The employee — we’ll call him “Mr. Reluctant” — resisted taking the course and resisted doing the assignments. We worked hard to help Mr. Reluctant improve his business writing skills. We even sent him an additional assignment for extra practice, at no extra charge. We thought it would help him as he moved ahead in his work life.

Much to our astonishment, Mr. Reluctant sent back a message complaining about the extra assignment. He wasn’t just complaining; he actually used profanity. As you might imagine, my first thought was to contact Mr. Reluctant to let him know how rude he was. I needed to say how unfortunate that he hadn’t learned anything about proper email etiquette from the course. But, calmer forces prevailed and I decided to stop and think about how I might best respond. I asked myself: Do I ignore the message? Do I write back suggesting that his choice of words was inappropriate? Do I contact his boss? What course of action should I take?

In the end, I decided to send Mr. Reluctant a polite, albeit business-like email, thanking him for his message. I also explained why we sent the extra assignment. And I left it at that. Weeks went by without a response. But one day, out of the blue, I received a message from Mr. Reluctant. He apologized and acknowledged that he had been out of line. As far as I was concerned, it was too little too late. The damage was done. And if I was ever in a position to have any business dealings with Mr. Reluctant in future, let’s just say I would be reluctant. I am not a person to hold a grudge and there are times when a person deserves second chances, but we all have the opportunity to behave decently from the start. The following are some quick tips I crafted to make sure you don’t let your words come back to bite you.

How Not To Let Your Words Come Back To Bite You

  1. Accentuate The Positive: No matter how negative you may feel, take the time to communicate in as positive a manner as possible. If you choose words that are negative, that is the impression you will leave with whomever is on the receiving end.
  2. Don’t Be A Hot Head: Take time to cool off. Refrain from responding immediately when someone says or does something that annoys you. Give yourself time to thoughtfully frame a response.
  3. Take Time To Talk: Don’t hide behind email messaging as a way of avoiding actually hashing out your differences with the person. Instead, pick up the phone and talk to the person with whom you are having a disagreement. Or, if you are in the same office, suggest going for a coffee to chat. Many things are best settled in person.
  4. Plant Seeds For The Future: It’s absolutely true that you reap what you sow. However you behave, whatever you choose to say in the moment, is quite likely to have a life of its own, in ways you cannot possibly predict. Remember; a good business communicator’s words may well go a long way to build new bridges for the future.

Of course no one is perfect. And there will be days when you might find yourself, if not telling someone off, choosing your words less carefully than you ought to. However, if you practice positive, thoughtful communication, you will suffer far fewer regrets or pangs of conscience, not to mention potentially damaged business relationships. And that is something that none of us needs to be the least bit reluctant about!


If you need help with developing positive business communication skills, contact


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