Have you ever been in the middle of something super important, a thought that you were trying to articulate, and someone barges into your office and you lose your entire train of thought?

I know I have and it drives me crazy!

If it’s not someone coming into our office it’s our technology.  Most of us hear that ping from our phone or computer letting us know we have an email and we jump! We stop what we are doing and immediately check our email, sending a half-thought-out response because our mind is still trying to catch up from switching tasks. Today employees are married to their emails, tablets, and phones and we are unable to get our most important work done every day.

I truly believe that every company needs to establish effective business communication protocols that are defined and followed by everyone in the organization. Whether you are the CEO or the receptionist. This will not only provide better avenues of communication but it also promotes productivity. Allow me to explain!

The Importance of Effective Business Communication Techniques

There are times where you need to speak to an employee or upper management. It isn’t an emergency but it’s important and ideally should be addressed in the next 24 hours. There is an internal conflict.  Do I just send them an email or should I mosey on down the hall to chat? Unless you are really lucky, the latter typically will cause some sort of interruption of workflow for the other person.  Not to mention resentment. This is especially dangerous for senior leaders to do since a more junior person would not feel empowered to say now is not a good time.

The critical point is to really assess the importance of the topic. For example, barging into someone’s office to tell them about a new idea is a poor way to communicate. You are interrupting them and now causing them to be unproductive. Making an appointment to discuss a new idea is a fantastic way to communicate! You will have that person’s undivided attention and both parties benefit – including the business.  

If communication protocols were established, employees would not only be more productive but they would feel more confident when communicating.

Response Time Expectations

Before you can define the recommended tools to use for communication (i.e. Face-to-face, phone or email) you need to determine your company’s response time policies for internal and external communication.

During one of my presentations, I asked the audience what do they think their response time policy is for getting back to customers. A woman said, “When I get an email from a customer I respond right away.” Luckily her supervisor was in the room and said “I do not expect you to respond right away.  Responding within 24 hours is sufficient.”. This was a critical conversation. This employee now had permission to not be tied to her email all day long so that she could get other more important work done.

It’s important companies define their response time policies and communicate them clearly to their employees. Otherwise, the assumed policy is almost always ASAP in this crazy highly reactionary world. A typical policy for customers is to respond or acknowledge within 24 hours except for weekends and holidays, those wait until the next business day.

Communication Tools – When To Use Them


Face-to-face communication is a highly effective way to communicate complex topics or sensitive information, however, the urgency of that topic dictates if you interrupt someone or if you send an email asking for someone’s time when it is convenient for them.

I was presenting to a Vistage group (CEO peer group) and the chair, Tom Morgan, made a comment that helped put things in perspective.  He said, “The most expensive question is when someone knocks on your door and asks if you have a minute.” So true!

Response time expectations and the tools you use to communicate must be defined so everyone understands the rules and can be empowered to enforce them.  These are needed to avoid that million dollar question!

So if it is truly an emergency (NOTE: Your communication protocol should clearly define what constitutes an emergency) then, by all means, knock on that door!  Otherwise, send an email to communicate and if necessary ask them for a few minutes to discuss it when they are at a breaking point with their work. It’s important each individual allows interruptions on their terms.  When they have wrapped up their thoughts and are ready to move on to the next most important task of the day.

Phone, Text, Instant Messaging

Technology can be our best friend and our arch enemy. Again communication protocols are critical to sustaining productivity.

In general, the only time you should be calling, texting or instant messaging someone is when it’s an emergency. Calling, texting, and instant messaging are very disruptive.  Especially for people that are easily distracted. Unless it is a true emergency email is the right tool for the job. Unless they don’t have easy access to email of course. Once you start to communicate in this way everyone will know the importance of triaging their email multiple times during the day to look for important but non-emergency emails.


In order for this strategy to work, using email for non-emergency conversations, you must come up with an email naming standards.  This would be consistent wording you would put in the subject line so people are quickly aware there is an important issue that needs their attention.

This will ensure important non-emergency tasks don’t get overlooked while minimizing unnecessary interruptions throughout the day.

Don’t forget to turn off your email notifications so you don’t get tempted when you hear the ping!

Email Subject Line Naming Standards

Using a company naming standard in the email subject line will allow the recipient to just quickly triage their inbox (skim through and just read the subject lines without opening each email). This will help the recipient understand how urgent the matter is and when a response is necessary.

Here are some examples your company may want to adopt:

  • Immediate Action Required – Tells you to open it as soon as you see it.  
  • Response Needed By (with a specific deadline) – Tells you that you need to take an action and gives you an idea of how urgent it is.
  • FYI – Typically means there is no rush.  Read when you have time.

Again, it’s critical you put this information in the subject line so people don’t have to open the email to figure out the urgency.  This technique alone drives productivity with managing emails.

Your company should come up with the Email Naming Standards that make the most sense for your business.  These could be specific to a department as well.

Here is a complimentary copy of our Effective Business Communication Guidelines.  Print it. Share it. Hang it on your wall as a quick reference document to help you be an effective communicator. Include it with your soon to be created Business Communication Protocol documentation.

Putting It All Together

So, in summary, the reason to define Effective Communication Protocols is to stop the reactionary behavior that impacts our productivity and the overall success of the business. By defining these protocols, you are removing the guessing game from communication and empowering your staff.

Still not sold on why this is important?  Did you know when you get interrupted, on average you lose 20 minutes?  Even if someone is just asking you what you want for lunch! You have to regather your thoughts, get back into your groove, and reread or redo what was previously done to continue the flow.   Time is our most valuable resource. You must do everything you can to not waste it!

Worried your employees don’t know how to effectively manage email for this to work? Consider bringing us in to train them on these concepts as well as how to manage email and time effectively. Vistage CEO peer groups recommend our training 100% of the time.

Do you know other companies or colleagues that could benefit from this information?  Maybe your suppliers or customers. Think about how effective your communication would be if you had interfacing businesses following the same protocols.  Our goal is to help individuals, teams, organizations and their interfacing partners be as efficient and effective as possible. So please like, share, forward and spread the word!

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