Courtesy—One of Six ‘C’ Qualities of Effective Communication

The ‘C of Courtesy’, one of six Cs which represents six (6) qualities of effective communication, calls for senders to revise messages to reflect courtesy.

Courteous messages use positive words. Positive words show respect for the receiver and reflect the you attitudeOpens in new window.

Courtesy promotes goodwill by showing concern for the receiver. Goodwill comes with a feeling of confidence based on honesty and reliable service.

Courtesy may also be described as diplomacy. For example, when government officials from different countries meet, they employ some of the same strategies you use in showing concern for the reader of your messages.

Both parties prepare by researching the other’s culture and language (developing the you attitudeOpens in new window). If a disagreement arises, the representatives try to be objective and polite (using positive words) rather than insulting.

The officials use appropriate gender references during their dialogue (selecting gender-free terms). After the meeting, further negotiations and relations between the two countries are aided by meeting communication deadlines (responding to messages promptly).

By applying the following methods, senders (writer or speaker) may demonstrate courtesy in their messages:

1.   Develop the You Attitude

To develop the you attitudeOpens in new window in communicationOpens in new window, a writer or speaker must project empathy into business communicationsOpens in new window, replace I or we with you or your, and address the receiver by name.

Empathy means imagining yourself in the receiver’s position.

In written communication, apply the same tact that you would use if you were talking directly to the receiver.

When you talk with a person, body language Opens in new window helps project your meaning. When you write, you have only words to convey the meaning.

The reader must understand exactly what you intend because many business decisions depend entirely on the written word.

A misused or misunderstood word can confuse the reader and cost a business money. Thus, when you write or speak, avoid colloquialisms, jargon, and any words or phrases that might be offensive.

Replace I or we with you or your to establish your friendly intent as a writer.

In your message, emphasize the benefits to the reader. Consider the following examples:

    I/We Attitdue
  • We will prepare complimentary snacks for the office party.
  • You/Your Attitude
  • You will receive complimentary snacks at the office party.
    I/We Attitude
  • We will provide free event shirts for volunteers to wear at the race.
  • You/Your Attidue
  • All volunteers may wear free event shirts at the race.

Even requests for action and unfavorable responses may create goodwill when the emphasis is on the receiver’s benefits.

The following examples illustrate how an unpleasant message can be courteous and incorporate the you attitude Opens in new window.

    I/We Attitude
  • We may not be able to offer you credit if your account is not paid in full by June 25.
  • You/Your Attitude
  • To continue purchasing on credit, please pay the balance by June 25.
    I/We Attitude
  • We require a $300 minimum balance in order for customers to receive free checks.
  • You/Your Attitude
  • When you maintain a $300 minimum balance, you receive free checks.
    I/We Attitude
  • After September 15, I will drop all students who have not signed and returned their Acceptable Use Form.
  • You/Your Attitude
  • Please protect your enrollment. Sign and return your Acceptable Use Form by September 15.
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Important Hint! 
  • Use the receiver’s name in the message to emphasize the person’s importance.
  • When you respond to a written message, obtain the correct spelling of the name from the sender’s message.
  • If you originate the message and you are unsure of the correct spelling, call the business and ask for the correct spelling of the individual’s name and title.

2.   Use Positive Words

Courteous messages use positive words. Positive words show respect for the receiver and reflect the you attitude.

People are more open to the content of positive messages than of negative ones.

Both word choice and sentence structure can change a negative tone into a positive tone.

Structure your sentences to state what can be done rather than what cannot be done. The following examples show how word choice can change a negative tone into a positive tone.

    Negative Tone
  • Criticism often demoralizes employees.
  • Positive Tone
  • Praise often motivates employees.
    Negative Tone
  • We do not make exchanges for purchases without receipts.
  • Positive Tone
  • You may exchange any purchase with your receipt.

The following is a list of negative words that undermine positive messages.

Negative Words to Avoid
annoy damage failed lazy
no blame deny fear
mistake not complaint doubt
incorrect neglect reject criticize
error irritate never sorry

3.   Select Gender-Free Terms

Some nouns, especially job titles, refer to either men or women. Gender-free terms grant both sexes equal status and respect.

Terminology that stereotypes or indicates bias against either men or women is called sexist language.

Stereotypes Opens in new window may imply that racial and ethnic groups, women, men, or individuals with disabilities are superior or inferior to others. Thus, words that stereotype people may offend readers and lessen opportunities to create goodwill.

Alternatives to sexist terms are listed in the following examples:

policeman police officer
bellman customer service assistant
craftsman craft worker
fireman firefighter
foremansupervisor or manager
mailman mail carrier
waitress server

When you refer to a category of people that may include both men and women, one option, shown in the next examples, is to make the noun plural and use a plural (gender-free) pronoun.

  • A lawyer prepares questions to ask her witnesses before the jury convenes.
  • Gender-Free
  • Lawyers prepare questions to ask their witnesses before the jury convenes.
  • Treat the customer courteously so she will continue to shop in our store.
  • Gender-Free
  • Treat customers courteously so they will continue to shop in our store.

4.   Respond to Messages Promptly

Timeliness is the watchword for diplomatic communication. Therefore, prompt responses enhance the effectiveness of written communication.

A favorable business reputation is built on orders that are shipped early. In addition, a timely response may turn a complaint into a business opportunity.

Business etiquette suggests that you send thank-you and congratulations messages within two days of an event.

When you receive written requests, prepare a reply within four working days. Practice courteous communication. Message clarityOpens in new window, a C quality that enhances courtesy, is discussed hereOpens in new window.