One of the best places to start improving business etiquette is by cleaning up our speech. Let´s start with one of my favorites and one that I hear on a daily basis: teen speak. Y´know, like when like you can´t utter a sentence without like inserting extra words like "like"? And let´s not forget sarcasm. It´s totally awesome when our colleagues embarrass us or when we lose an account, right? I mean, like, right? Teen speak, while understandable from a teen (albeit exasperating as well), can be particularly annoying in business. Imagine your employee starting out a presentation for a prospective client like this: "Well, we´re, like, really psyched that you could come in today. We have an awesome presentation for you . . . " This could work if the prospect speaks the same language (or is thirteen), but if you´re presenting before a more mature audience you could risk losing that individual from the outset. Teen speak can reflect a lower level of professionalism. Using (and please forgive me for sounding like your ninth grade English teacher) grammatically incorrect speech may suggest a lack of respect, laziness, and an unwillingness to learn and, yes, grow up.
When we don´t talk like our age we sound unpolished and, hmm, adolescent. Cursing, speaking too tentatively, and looking all around at everyone but the person we´re addressing can water down our message. Too many "uh´s" and "like´s" distract our listeners and make them wonder how we´ve gotten as far as we have in the world. Worse than anything, however, is the way this kind of speech erodes people´s confidence in our abilities to get things done. Face it: we make judgments about the way people talk all the time. It´s not unlike what we might think if someone saunters into a fairly important and formal meeting wearing inappropriate attire.
Grammatical errors, too, can distract people from focusing on what someone is saying. I´ve heard that some companies actually charge every time an employee utters a grammatical error or slips into teen speak. Call it a "speech penalty jar" and consider donating your collection to a local literacy program.
Being articulate doesn´t mean you´re behaving too formerly. It´s a good thing. If you´ve got employees who need to be articulate but haven´t figured out yet how to speak clearly and consistently, then you need to step in and help. If people can´t speak well, they won´t advance in their careers. People may not admit it, but it´s true. A rising star with a speech flaw has a problem to overcome and the more quickly you recognize this the more quickly this person can slough off what´s holding him or her back and move on toward a promising career.
One last word: I´ve noticed that slang is becoming more and more acceptable in the workplace. I´ll include foul language as well-the "f" word, the "s" word (I really hate this one, especially when I caught my 11-year-old uttering it one day), and anything else that you wouldn´t say to the principal. I understand that sometimes nothing else will do, but in public, in meetings WITH CLIENTS AND CUSTOMERS, employees need to play it safe.