How avoiding cheap words gives you better business relationships

A year ago I was invited to quote on providing services for a large government project. It was a complex brief, and a lot of elbow grease went into my submission.


Time went on and I was busy with other work. I followed up the submission once or twice and received the “we’ll get back to you” treatment. I well and truly lost interest, chalking it up to what appears to be a communication norm these days; non-responsiveness.

Guess what? A few weeks ago a letter arrived (yes, a printed one!) letting me down gently to the news that, unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my submission. What a massive surprise!

I have to give them credit; at least they eventually got back to me – not that I was hanging out for a response 12 months on. It’s an interesting observation, though, that the more communication channels we have in our information-saturated world, the less we seem to consider it necessary to exercise some of the more courteous behaviours like responding to people.

I hear similar comments from those around me; whether it’s an invitation to an event, a job application or general business communication, people don’t reply like they used to. In an age when it’s so easy to answer by flicking back a response or posting a comment, words have never been so cheap. Their value has plummeted further than the Aussie dollar.

And with those cut-rate words comes a slump in accountability. Following through, getting back to people, taking responsibility for actions and being willing to admit to mistakes seem to be viewed by many as old-hat.

It reminds me of a story I heard from a friend with a long and somewhat colourful career in many industries. He once worked for a giant telco where a colleague spent years using a false name to sign large contracts (the name was pretty obviously fake, at that). When my friend asked him why, his response was, “I don’t want those bastards holding me accountable for anything!”

Amazingly, no-one picked him up on it and he got his wish of never being held accountable for the contracts he signed.

Do you know people, businesses, government departments like that? They mightn’t exactly have fake names or false social media profiles, but their words count for little and they don’t step up to be held accountable for what they do. Generally, those types hide behind arms-length communication rather than building the solid relationships that have never been more important in our furiously-paced digital environment.

To further your career or business, you need to build credibility. Start with airtight relationships with the people in your network - and those beyond it - who matter most.

That’s not going to come through hollow words and lack of response. It’s more likely to be born of direct contact, meaningful conversations and honesty.

Let’s take care not to get swept up in other people’s bad communication habits. It’s important to get back to people when they ask for something, close the communication loop (oh, and perhaps don’t take a year to do it!)

Our words don't need to be cheap. Used well, they’re a rich and powerful tool, helping us succeed and make a positive difference to everyone around us.


Image: courtesy of

Neryl EastComment