Rules For Professional Communication


Before we dive into this week’s topic, I want to share a piece of feedback from last week that I found particularly amusing.

In short, my friend asserted that the situation “my friend” encountered was a brilliant strategic move in order for the the company to become profitable. Here’s his take on the strategy:

“First, underpay and abuse the drivers.  This leads to some drivers leaving for other services, thus reducing labor costs.

To compensate for the driver attrition, you need to p*** off a few customers, to maintain supply / demand equilibrium.

Eventually, when all drivers have abandoned the platform, you have reduced your labor cost to zero, and are operating at near 100% gross margin!

Increased margin will attract more investors, which will make up for any lost revenue in the process. So, you see, you are just the unfortunate but necessary collateral damage of an otherwise brilliant business plan.”

Clearly, I just wasn’t seeing the bigger picture here.

Now, to the newsletter:

Topic of the Week: Rules For Professional Communication

I’m sure you’ve heard about a viral memo written by a now ex-Google employee.  While I have plenty of personal opinions on the situation, I won’t share those today.

Instead, I want to focus on three rules of professional communication that I’ve benefited from in my career.  I’ve also included specific situations that helped me learn these lessons.

Rule #1: Never Put Anything Online You Don’t Want the World to See

We live in a world where it takes one click of the button to share information.  Whether it’s an email, internal memo, etc., if you aren’t comfortable with the contents of your email getting out, you probably shouldn’t be sending the email.

I once had a man copy and paste the entire contents of our email exchange to his blog to teach me, and other private equity professionals, a lesson in how to communicate with him.

He didn’t share my name or contact info, but the contents were still out there for the world to see.  Career altering? No. Annoying? That’s a nice way to put it.

Rule #2: Facts Only In Email

Unless explicitly asked for, your personal opinions do not belong in any written professional communications.  They just don’t.

I try to live by the rule FOIE. Facts Only In Email.  If it’s not a fact and they didn’t ask me for my opinion, it doesn’t make the cut.

In one specific situation, I had feedback in an email interpreted as “openly hostile.”  I expressed an opinion and it was not interpreted how I intended.

You can’t hear a tone of voice or see facial expressions in written communication.  A perfectly harmless opinion could come off as volatile.

Rule #3: Data is Open for Interpretation, Look at All the Data, Not Just Information That Affirms Your Opinion


The Google employee mentioned above cited sources for a number of his conclusions and opinions.

Here’s the problem. I can do a quick Google search and identify sources that present conflicting findings.

Data is open to interpretation, and we often have a tendency to seek out data that supports our existing opinions.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve caught myself doing this during a diligence process. If I’m not crazy about a deal from the get go, it’s easy for me to find 100 data points that reaffirm my initial conclusion.

However, there are many situations where the company I so quickly dismissed, went on to be wildly successful, and I missed out.

In my opinion, very few people are truly objective. It’s a lifelong struggle.

About the author

Danielle O'Rourke

Recovering Investor. Mom. Wife.

By Danielle O'Rourke

Danielle O'Rourke

Recovering Investor. Mom. Wife.

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