Unit 8: Business communication

From WikiEducator
Jump to: navigation, search

Unit 8 : Business communication


An entrepreneur has to become skilled in the art of reading the situations he or she manages in business. Typically, any business will have people working for the company, outsiders, who are its customers, suppliers of products for resale, e.g. wholesalers, and those who fund the business. All these stakeholders, at one point or another, need to interact for a variety of reasons. For example, a customer might want to enquire from the salesperson about a certain product, or raise a complaint about poor delivery of service. That kind of interaction is known as communication. In this unit we, therefore, define business communication, examine types of communication, explain how these take place, and suggest ways of improving communication in business.


After working through this unit you should be able to:

  • Define communication
  • Explain the connection between communication and the aims of an enterprise
  • Show how employees of an organisation use the spoken word to accomplish tasks
  • Apply talking skills to the business environment
  • Distinguish verbal from non-verbal communication and illustrate how these are interrelated
  • Evaluate the importance of listening and speaking in effective communication
  • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of using the telephone
  • Discuss how written communication is best organised


Conducting business is unthinkable without effective communication. In this unit we examine what communication is by looking at the spoken word, its link with listening and written communication. We also discuss non-verbal communication as an important feature of the communication situation in business. One of the popular means of communication is the telephone. We single it out for discussion and relate it to business situations. The unit is concluded with guidelines about written communication, with encouragement that the entrepreneur should make it a point to learn basics of grammar in order to communicate efficiently.

8.1 What is Communication?

In any business enterprise, the entrepreneur will need to be confident and develop a level of expertise in the skills of speaking, listening, and at times writing to customers workmates and supervisors. The entrepreneur also needs to estimate and calculate with numbers, working out quantities, volumes, percentages, and fractions. He/she may also need to devise graphs and charts, using graphic illustrations to explain information. This might involve using computer-based and telecommunication equipment such as PCs, photocopiers, scanners, telephone systems, faxing equipment, etc. Indeed the core skills of communication, application of number and information technology have become so important in business that there is justification for you as an entrepreneur to make a conscious effort to learn communication fundamentals.

In your enterprise, you are likely to have employees under your leadership, as well as members working in other departments of the business. When conflicts arise, they need to be solved through conscious and effective communication. Meetings are a normal feature of the workplace, and these are accomplished through communication. From this, you will note that more communication situations have been offered rather than giving definitions. Let us summarise this discussion with a definition of communication. In our opinion, communication is a process in which information is shared and exchanged. It is a two-way interaction in which the entrepreneur, and whoever is being interacted with, are active participants in the attempt to solve a problem through the use of language as the proper channel of communication.

Now, revisit what we have already discussed in this section and see if you can come up with your own definition.

My definition of business communication is:

8.2 Communication and the aims of the enterprise

To understand how people relate to one another in business, it is important, first, to think about why people work at all, and what the aims of the business are.

Basically, there are two kinds of work organisations. Firstly, there are those which have been set up to make profit by selling goods or services, like food in supermarkets, cars, insurance, education or entertainment. Secondly, there are those which have been created to provide services to the public, like local councils, health authorities, and charities. The first type of organisation is often referred to as the private sector, business, commerce, or industry. The second type of organisation is called the public sector, local government, government, or in the case of charities, the voluntary sector.

So, what are some of the business aims of profit-making organisations? It should be remembered that the basic aim of the private sector is to make a profit, while that of the public sector is to provide services which are efficient and good value for money. That being the case employees working in a private sector enterprise will need to pull together in order t achieve the profit making aim. Communication is central the whole idea of teamwork and pulling together. Can you figure out in what way it is so? In a business which makes profit, this will mean the following:

  • buyers will communicate their intention to purchase good quality raw materials as cheaply as possible
  • factory managers and workers will be expected to produce top quality products with a minimum waste of time and materials
  • sales force selling goods through effective communication
  • the marketing staff researching into changes in the market place and feeding information back to designers and researchers for new product ideas and improvements to existing products

In the public sector, e.g. the local council, the aim to supply efficient local council services involves:

  • councillors and council officers deciding what levels of local taxes to raise to help pay for services supplied
  • managers in various departments ensuring that budgets are not overspent
  • departmental staff working to make sure that the laws which govern local government are upheld
  • obtaining feedback from community members so as to improve services continually

8.3 How people relate and talk to each other in the business enterprise

Having defined communication, and having looked at the aims of a business organisation, it is important to discuss how people relate and talk to one another. Talk is an important aspect of communication, and deserves proper handling. A business is created to achieve specific goals, either to make a profit or to provide an efficient public service. Therefore, all people who work for the enterprise must pull together to enable the goals to be realised. The relationships between people at work are affected by a number of factors. For example:

  • all need to keep a job in order to survive, and keeping a job means getting on well with managers, co-workers and customers
  • Employees also want to get on and to build careers, so they will need to earn money to pay for rent or mortgage, to start a family and to afford some essentials and luxuries. They must, therefore, make it their business to impress favourably those who can influence their progress up the ladder
  • Customers are given special treatment in organisations, since in the end they keep everyone in a job and pay their wages
  • Employees inevitably work within networks of other people, inside and outside the organisation. To enable its goals to be met, all employees must create and maintain good communication with the others in the network

Looking at these points to do with relationship, how does talk, as an aspect of communication, feature?

The ways in which employees talk to others, inside or outside the business, is directly affected by the kinds of relationships they have, such as senior manager, junior employee, co-worker, customer, and so forth. Many employees use the spoken word as their main communication tool. For some, like sales assistants, travel agency staff or care workers, the spoken word may form as much as 80% of all communication in the business. This is why it is important to develop effective spoken word skills. Now work on this activity.


Plan an interview with a person who works in the private sector, and another with someone who works in the public sector. Devise questions to find out how each person relates with people in the orgnisation, and customers. Conduct the interviews and share your findings with colleagues.

What did you find? The findings will differ from one person to another. However, it will be clear that working in an organisation requires good relationships with co-workers and customers. This is made possible through interaction. It is not possible to conduct meaningful business without talking to people.

8.4 The use of the spoken word in business

So far, we have referred in general terms to people talking to each other to get the job done. This section turns our attention to the detailed uses to which the spoken word is put at work. Once these uses have been understood and absorbed, you will have a clear idea of the skills and techniques you will need to make a similar use of the spoken word in your conduct of business. Here are some of the major uses of the spoken word:

  • To pass instructions to staff so that they are able to carry out tasks within their job roles, e.g. to set up a credit purchasing account for a new customer, or prepare a bed for a patient
  • To ask for explanation or further information in order to carry out a task effectively e.g. to check out the settings for a lathe or drilling machine before starting to manufacture a new batch of parts
  • To provide feedback on events or activities to help managers review work which has been carried out
  • To sell to customers. Selling is the life-blood of private sector organisations ‚Äì either sell or die, so a great deal of time and effort is spent on developing the spoken word selling skills among sales representatives
  • To make decisions and to solve problems. Today, most organisations devote a great deal of time in meetings and discussions, to consulting various managers and their staff about proposed actions and policies
  • To trouble-shoot. Wherever people interact, sooner or later there are bound to be personality clashes. Managers will have to solve such conflicts among their staff, and that is accomplished through talk
  • To persuade. Everyday, many people in any given country need to be persuaded to do tasks and complete them satisfactorily. Similarly, customers need to be persuaded to buy certain commodities

This shows us how important speech skills are in the business organisation.

8.5 Hints for talking more communicatively

It is clear from the foregoing that talking serves an important function in business, but why is it that many times we do not communicate our message as well as we intend, or we are misunderstood by a customer? The reasons for that are many, and in this section let’s share some hints by helping you reflect on your personal abilities about using the spoken word.

i. Correct pronunciation

For many countries in and out of the commonwealth, English , the official language at the workplace, is a second language. A second language is that language we learn after we have already mastered our mother tongue (our first language). We have, therefore, to learn how to pronounce it correctly so that those who listen to us understand what we say. Failure to pronounce correctly results in many communication problems, normally referred to as communication breakdown. This is bound to be worse in those workplaces where members speaking different first languages have to interact. This is a very common phenomenon in business. Think of as many words as you can that are often mispronounced, list them, and share them with those you interact with in business. Try and pronounce them correctly.

ii. Use appropriate words

A business usually has special words that are associated with business. When such words are used during interaction, it should be borne in mind that not everyone you interact with will be familiar with them. Take the word ‘entrepreneur’ as an example. It may not be readily understood, so you should ensure that terms like that are used appropriately for comprehension by non-specialists. Here are two examples:

  1. May you please borrow me some money?
  2. Can I lend some money from you?

What do you think is inappropriate in either case? Both examples are wrong because in the first case when you want someone to give you money, you ask them to lend not to borrow you. The exact opposite is true for the second example. Remember that to lend is to give to…while to borrow is to get from. Now, think of other examples from personal experience.

iii. Do not allow emotions to interfere with what you say

Can you remember, in business, when you faced a situation where a customer provoked you, or accused you of cheating them out of their money when you did not do that? How do you feel? How would you express yourself? Oftentimes we get upset, and probably want to tell the person off. Unfortunately when we are in that state, we do not choose our words carefully, and risk being misunderstood. The hint is to cool down before responding. Can you cite a case study when someone was emotional, resulting in breakdown of communication.

iv. Use emphasis

Spoken language can be more effective when you stress key words and phrases, and make such words stand out. Emphasis is important during direct oral communication. When talking face-to-face with somebody, or with a group of people, try and emphasise those words you think will make your point clearer. This skill should then be practised regularly. Here is an activity to give you more practice.

The words and phrases you emphasise depend on the point you think is being communicated. Establish that first, then go ahead as you take into account some of the hints we have discussed so far.


  1. Read the following situation closely
  2. Underline words and phrases you think should be stressed
  3. Write a brief explanation to justify the choice of words and phrases

Everyone is expected to arrive at the workplace ten minutes before time. Time is money. To make money you must plan first. The same applies in business. To work more effectively during the day, you must spend some time planning. Everyone must, therefore arrive a good ten minutes before the official starting time. At least ten minutes, I insist. Hope there are no questions.

8.6 Non-verbal communication

What do you understand by non-verbal communication? When we use words to communicate our intentions, we refer to that as verbal communication. However, there are times when we use signs to communicate a point. That means we will be communicating without using words as such. This is referred to as non-verbal communication. As an example, when a customer shakes her head, that means she does not want what you are offering. Dressing, facial expression, and many other instances are typical examples. Before reading on, suggest any five examples of non-verbal communication you have observed in the business environment. In what ways do these acts strengthen the effectiveness of the spoken words?

Some researchers in the business world say that 80% of our communication is non-verbal. Just imagine! That is why we have the common expression that actions speak louder than words. Given that argument, a clear understanding of non-verbal communication will increase your awareness of other people’s non-verbal messages, and interpret them correctly.

8.7 Linking speaking with listening

In what way is listening part of communication? Earlier, we defined communication as the exchange and sharing of meaning. In business, people communicate for various reasons. For a fact, we cannot go on talking and talking, or else we end up not talking sense, and at worst, boring those we interact with. We also have to listen to what work-mates, customers, supervisors say as much as they have to listen to us. It is only when listening and talking are inter-changed that business can be conducted more meaningfully. The point being made is that you must be a good listener. How well do you listen?

To answer that, work on this activity. Remember that it is not a test, it is meant to help you reflect on whether you are a good or poor listener. Examine yourself openly, and in the space provided, indicate whether you are bad or good against each item.

Now, turn back to your responses, and where you think you are poor, find ways of improving. Remember that even people who display hostility when they speak to you, or those who are boring, have something worth listening to. In turn, you will be in a better position to speak more communicatively after being attentive. I wish to suggest three types of listening for your consideration.


Say whether you are good or bad at each of the following.

  1. Learning the speaker express his / her thoughts fully without interrupting ______________
  2. Showing interest in what someone is saying even when it is boring


  1. Listening attentively to what is said by a supervisor you don’t like


  1. Not becoming hostile or excited when a speaker’s views differ from yours _____________
  2. Ignoring distractions when listening ____________
  3. Not showing by your actions that you disagree with the speaker_____________
  4. Encouraging someone to speak on ____________________
  5. Making a speaker repeat what he / she did not communicate clearly ____________
  6. Paying attention to a speaker who is boastful about his competence at work_____________
  7. Listening to a person who has a low opinion of you ___________________

i. Listening for information

In this case, the purpose for listening is to get the facts and ideas that are spoken about. When what is said is relevant to you, it will be easier for you to be more attentive.

ii. Critical listening

When you have made up your mind that what a speaker says is worth listening to, you should then evaluate what is said. Evaluation involves making a distinction between correct and incorrect information, truths from half truths, and so on. A critical listener does not have to agree with everything that is said.

iii. Appreciative listening

A speaker may say something you totally disagree with, and this often happens in business. Appreciative listening means that you try to see an idea the way it is seen by the speaker. After that, you can then respond accordingly. Appreciative listening helps you formulate more effective speech as feedback.

There is a very close link between speaking and listening, and you can add more examples from your business experience. Let us now turn to other means of communication in a business enterprise.

8.8 The Telephone

In business, the telephone is one of the commonly used means of communicating messages. Using the spoken word. There are many reasons why the telephone is used such as placing an order for a particular product; making an enquiry about a service;, lodging a complaint about something in business; making appointments, etc. It is important for an entrepreneur to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of using the telephone as opposed to other means of business communication. What are some of these? Suggest any two before reading on.

i. Advantages of using the telephone

  • It is quicker
  • It saves time compared to writing a letter that will take days or weeks
  • You get immediate feedback because you will be talking to the person directly
  • Using the telephone cuts down on transport costs
  • You do not have to travel long distances and spend time away from business

ii. Disadvantages of using the telephone

  • The telephone can be expensive especially when you are told to hold on, or talk for too long
  • There is the danger of distorting messages so that the recipient might pass on the wrong message
  • The use of non-verbal communication is limited. For example, you cannot tell how a person feels when you are not face-to-face
  • The person you want to contact for urgent business may not be available when you phone
  • Your call may not be returned as soon as you want, leading to a delay in business

In most business organisations, we often have complaints about the way telephone attendants answer customers. It is, therefore, your responsibility to ensure that the correct telephone etiquette and procedures are followed. Train your receptionist in the following:

  • Politeness at all times when answering the telephone
  • Recording the message accurately and as soon as the message is received, on a pad meant for that purposes
  • Returning outstanding calls within a reasonable space of time
  • Not keeping the caller holding for too long because this makes it expensive for him / her

With reference to your business, suggest some of the problems you have experienced using the telephone, and explain how you have solved them.

8.9 Written Communication

There is a very wide range of written documents that are regularly used in business organisations. Given the limited scope of the present topic, we will not get into much detail about the different documents. Rather, a selected few will be discussed. Some of these include:

  • The business letter
  • The memorandum
  • The report
  • The advertisement
  • The set of instructions

8.9.1 The business letter

The business letter or formal letter remains a very effective and popular means of communication, especially in underdeveloped countries where rural business people do not have easy access to the internet. The following are some of the reasons why the business letter remains crucial in business:

  • It serves as a permanent record to which reference can be made when need arises
  • It gives the entrepreneur time to think before replying
  • It can be used to do business where there is no telephone or internet

There are also numerous situations for which the business letter can be used, and these include:

  • Applying for funds
  • Making an enquiry
  • Applying for a job
  • Expressing an opinion

A business letter has certain features, which you will no doubt be aware of. We refer to that as the format of the business letter, which is different from a friendly letter. The features are: name and address of your business, the receiver’s name, greetings, the subject, the body of the letter, closing the letter, signature, your name, your signature. Below is an example of a business letter.

Tsena Reje Kiosk

P/Bag 0084


30 March 2007

The Despatch Manager

Lobatse Wholesalers

P.O.Box 125


Dear Sir

Re: Missing cans of Appletiser

I refer to the above matter. On 28 February I ordered 10 cases of soft drinks (invoice number 002441).

When I was unpacking, I found that in one case two cans of Appletiser were missing.

I trust you will be able to replace them soon.

Yours sincerely

Maria Modise (Manager)

Now practise writing business letters relating to your type of business.

8.9.2 The memorandum

The memorandum is known as ‘memo’ for short. The plural for memorandum is memoranda. Traditional memoranda are in essence internal letters, and indeed their main bodies are set out in the same way as letters.

The memo head of a memorandum is simply an area in which essential data are displayed to enable it to be routed to its intended recipient, to be filed and retrieved. A typical memo head looks like this:


To: Sales Assistant (2)Date: 4 April 2007 (3)

From: Assistant Marketing Manager (4)Copies: Marketing Manager, Cleaner (5)

Subject: Delivery of new stock (6)

  1. Shows the heading on the memo head
  2. Shows the recipient of the memorandum who may be identified by job title or his name. The title: Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms.,, etc. is always omitted
  3. The date on which the memo was sent is reflected
  4. Shows the identity of the sender
  5. Refers to the name or names of people to which the memo is copied
  6. Refers to the subject of the memo

Unlike the business letter, memoranda do not start or finish with ‘Dear…’ or ‘yours…’ In developed countries, however, the life-span of the internal memorandum produced on paper is coming to an end. IT systems, which enable computers to be networked are now becoming widely established in larger organisations. As a result, many staff are able to send electronic mail (e-mail) messages instead of paper memos. The e-mail message has several advantages for the business because the message is:

    • Much faster to produce. An employee with a terminal can quickly key in a message personally
    • Much faster to send
    • Easier to send simultaneously to groups of staff
    • Easy to read and delete, to store electronically or to print on paper
    • Capable of attaching computer-produced files (e.g. of reports or letters) to e-mail covering notes and sending them together

Notwithstanding the change in technology, the paper memorandum is likely to survive for quite some time in the foreseeable future especially in developing countries where technology is still being developed. You can only write memos that communicate your message if you practise writing. So, given what we have discussed hitherto, you are encouraged to start looking at your business and practise writing.

8.9.3 Putting written words together

Unlike spoken communication, written communication has the advantage of being a permanent record. Once something is written, you can always refer to it when need arises. You cannot do the same with what has been spoken. The main challenge though is that writing communicatively can be difficult and requires the entrepreneur to develop a whole variety of language skills.

a. Choosing the right words

The first important point about choosing and using the right words in written English is that for the most part, the use of familiar language and slang is not acceptable. Slang is the kind of language we tend to use among family and close friends, and tends to be spoken rather than written e.g.

Sharp… chuck me that tomato sauce. I have the bucks to buy it.

b. Language that is straight forward

For business purposes, try to use language which is factual, neutral, logical, unbiased and precise. This is language used in:

  • Describing business situations
  • Reporting on events in business
  • Fact sheets
  • Instructions

c. Language that is emotional

This type of language tends to be one-sided, persuasive and seeks to arouse feelings. It has its place, and you should develop sensitivity as to when to use it. It can be used in:

  • Advertisements
  • Sales letters
  • Electioneering
  • Editorial articles in newspapers

Here are some illustrations of the two types of words shown as alternatives. Notice how we respond in different ways to the two different types of vocabulary. In the space provided, provide any words you are familiar with from the business world.

Factual/ NeutralEmotive /Persuasive







Interruptbutt in






d. Other language considerations

Firstly, strive for short and clear sentences instead of long, winding sentences. That can result in ambiguity and ineffective communication e.g.

The lady wearing a new nightdress heard a knock at the door where she found a stranger, a young man, and opened it for him and he entered.

The problem with this long sentence is that it is not clear what the lady opened for the stranger. Did she open the door or the night-dress?

Secondly, mind your punctuation and spelling. In business writing, poor spelling and poor punctuation distorts communication and creates a bad impression in the eyes of the customers e.g.

We went to a nite clab and found that it was very noisy we the decided to faind acomodetien for that nite. We were lacky then we ate pitsa prawns vegetables and fruits b4 going tuh bed.

What do you find unacceptable in this extract? Discuss with a colleague the communicative problems posed here.

It is beyond the scope of this unit to teach about grammar, but it is our intention to raise your awareness about the need to make a conscious effort to learn essential grammar on your own. We are thinking of issues like learning about the most effective words you can use to describe things and situations in business (adjectives); words that denote our actions or the actions of the people we interact with (verbs); Words that tell us more about those actions (adverbs); words that tell us names of things (nouns); words that stand in the place of nouns (pronouns); and so forth.

  1. Summary

Successful entrepreneurship largely depends on efficient communication. To communicate efficiently takes conscious effort to learn essential communication skills. Above all, there must be commitment on your part as an entrepreneur to apply rules and language regularities to ensure that there is no communication breakdown in your communication efforts. To sum up, this unit covered the following key areas:

  • The definition of communication and different communication types
  • Communication situations at the workplace
  • Ways of using the spoken word at the workplace
  • Practical hints of talking more effectively when conveying messages
  • The link between non-verbal and verbal communication
  • The interrelationship between listening and speaking
  • Using the telephone to accomplish business tasks
  • The written communication in business


Desmond, W.E. 1996. Core Skills Communication. Dorset: Longman Ltd.

Hartley, P. and Bruckman, C.G. 2002. Business Communication. London: Routledge