Professional Communication 101: Our Guide

Communicating effectively, professionally, and appropriately – this may be something that some of us think about nearly every day we are at work, school, or within our personal lives. What does it mean to speak to someone in a way that is deemed “appropriate” for the particular situation, and how can body language and tone play a role in this as well? Is there a way to convey your message more effectively, more seriously, or more clearly?

On the other hand, many people may never give a second thought to how they present themselves in terms of communication, and how their tone, attitude, and even emails are perceived by others. 

When it comes to communication, there are three very dominating concepts – “what is said”, “how it is said” and “how it is heard”. This means that sometimes, you may find yourself saying something to someone, and once it is said, it elicits a completely different reaction than what you were expecting. Why are some messages received differently than others, and how does each person view “appropriate” communication for the workplace or classroom?

Well, the truth is that communication is a very relative concept. Languages, cultural meanings, body language, tone, and even written communication can vary immensely by country and workplace. In this guide, we will work to break down what it means to communicate professionally, and how you can take active steps to enhance your communication abilities!


Intent vs perception

two people standing back-to-back with each others

As stated in our introduction, a major theme within communication of all sorts is understanding intent vs perception. This simply means that when you say something to someone, the meaning you put behind your words might not always come off as clearly to the other person as you think. The person who is listening to you may tie a completely different meaning to what you’re saying, and this is arguably the greatest source of miscommunication that occurs in our world today. 

Let’s use an example to further explain intent vs perception. Let’s say you’re talking to a friend that you haven’t seen in a few weeks, and you notice they have gained a bit of weight. You have a very strong friendship with this person, and in a very joking and lighthearted way, you say to them “wow man, looks like you gained a few!” While you were setting up what you thought would be a very lighthearted joke that your friend would just laugh off, instead your friend immediately turns bright red and seems very ashamed and self-conscious.

While the meaning you put behind your words were what you thought to be lighthearted and innocent, your friend had a completely different view of this message. This is the basis of this concept – there can often be a difference between what you mean when saying something, and what others comprehend. Understanding intent vs perception is one of the hallmarks of understanding communication of all kinds, especially in the workplace. 

You see, when working a job, you will often need to ensure you’re communicating effectively. This means considering the things you are saying and how you are saying them, and how your message might be perceived by your colleagues, supervisors, and clients. 


Tone & body language 

Another communication concept that many people may not think about is body language – and this is another communication trait that can have completely different meanings in some cultures vs others. 

Eye contact, facial expressions, and posture are all key indicators of certain body language. When you’re speaking to someone, you would want the other person to keep eye contact, nod, and seem genuinely interested in what it is you are saying. Perhaps they are able to chime in on certain points and are leaning in to ensure they hear you correctly. These are all examples of body language cues that can help enhance communication between people. 

a man standing and crossing arms

When it comes to your tone, this is something that can also fall under the intent vs perception category, but also relates to body language. If you appear hostile, or your tone is angry or frustrated, you very likely will not receive a desirable response from the person you are talking to. Conversely, if you change your tone to welcoming, kind, and are showing a willingness to listen, you may find your results improve dramatically. 

Give this a thought the next time you are asking your boss to elaborate on their feedback, or asking your professor to explain why you received a low grade on your exam.


Written communication (emails)

gmail application on laptopn screen

It is important to understand that professionalism in terms of communication extends beyond just verbal communication and body language. Written communication, whether it be letters, memos, emails, etc. should also be treated with professional etiquette. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have received an email from someone at any of my previous jobs which contained loads of spelling and grammatical errors, no formal introduction, and also not containing a subject line. Professional email communication is far different than text messaging with your friends, and if you’re going to email your boss, colleague, professor, or a client on a day-to-day basis, make sure it’s professional. 


Email subject line:

Every professional email should have a subject line which essentially gives the reader an idea of what the email contains. When looking through an inbox of hundreds or thousands of emails, the person should be able to read your subject line and understand what lies within the email. When writing a subject line, consider the nature of the email, level of importance, and potentially why the email is being sent. A few examples of good email subject lines can be found below:

  • Marketing Team Meeting November 10th – Follow Up Notes
  • Action Required – Complete Your Annual Insurance Feedback Survey
  • Important – Sales Reviews Needed for 3 Additional Clients 
  • John Davis – Accounting 2322 – Midterm Exam Question 
  • Justin Jackson – Resume & Cover Letter – Application for Position of Account Manager 
  • Thank You For Your Time – May 24th Career Workshop


Email signature:

While not always 100% required, having an email signature with your basic contact information can be a great professional touch. Even if you’re a current college student and currently do not have a job, you should consider adding a basic signature to your emails. A few example email signatures can be found below: 


John Davis, CPA 

Associate Analyst – TJZ Capital Limited 

Boulder, Colorado

Phone – 1 899 999 9999

Email – [email protected]


Justin Jackson 

President – Temple University Accounting Association 

Finance ‘20 – College of Business

Phone – 1 999 999 9999

Email – [email protected]


Jane Doe

Communication Studies ‘23

College of Mass Media and Communication – University of Delaware

Phone – 1 333 888 8888

Email – [email protected]


As you progress through university and into your career, try to take extra care to improve your professional communication. Focus on strong email etiquette, understanding what you’re saying, how you say it, and how your messages are received.

If you’re interested in building your communication skills through media and communications internships, or internships in technology, data, finance, or legal, check out our Virtual Internships program!

Enroll Now

Similar posts