Business etiquette in the digital age20th May 2011
The process of communicating is now easier than ever. We text, email, blog, tweet, Skype and, not often enough, pick up the phone for an actual conversation. Just the other day the fax machine whirred into gear in the office, which had most of us jumping in surprise that: a) it still worked and b) someone was still using one.
The number of communication options available to us can all too often expose us to blunders. Different generations use digital communication in an assortment of ways. What is acceptable to a teenager might not fit in with the ideals of someone in their seventies. To avoid causing offence or embarrassment there needs to be a greater awareness of what is appropriate when communicating, particularly when it comes to business.
Text messages make it easy to avoid picking up the telephone and calling someone to have a proper conversation. And the limited amount of text space available has created language abbreviations which are acknowledged amongst the younger generations but can prove somewhat confusing to others.
My Mum, bless her, sent the following to explain a delayed journey home: “PRETTY HORRIFIC TRAFFIC INCIDENT ON A3. CASUALTY ON ROADSIDE. LOL”. Oh Mum. Not only does she have a habit of not being entirely elaborative in her text messages, she adds a lovely sadistic touch by attempting to shorten what she thought was “Lots of love” into a “Laugh out loud”. Not entirely appropriate when reporting a road accident.
Texting is an informal way of communicating, so is not always acceptable for use in business situations. Texts should also not be used as a way of avoiding talking to someone directly. If you do think it appropriate to send a text, one thing to remember is that abbreviations are risky and are open to misunderstanding. Keep them simple and clear.
Less formal than a fax or letter, email is now our most common method of communication. However, as they are so quick and easy to send they can cause problems. Here are some dos and don’ts of email etiquette:
- Do include a subject heading. The tendency is to ignore an email without one and it helps people find them later
- Do keep content appropriate to business. There are daily reminders in the press of mistakes such as the recently publicised email conversation between two colleagues over an ex-girlfriend that landed their photos on the front pages of the national papers for all the wrong reasons.
- And don’t use capital letters. It’s the email equivalent of shouting (Mum, take note).
And finally, the often neglected phone call. Its not that we are using phones less frequently. On the contrary, I am practically glued to mine in order to send constant bbm messages, check facebook, check twitter, receive emails…often everything but actually making phone calls. Phonephobes should never underestimate the benefits of a phone call. Taking the time to speak to someone rather than firing off a quick text message or email shows a willingness to interact with the person on the other end in a more personal and responsive way and allows tone, context and feeling to be portrayed. Just remember to give some thought to whether the recipient of the call is likely to be preoccupied.
For business calls, do leave a message if you receive no reply. The recipient will later note their missed call and it saves time and effort if they know who they are calling back and why. Leave a short succinct message and your name, number and time of call. Don’t waffle on or you risk losing their interest.
Behaving well is a must for every worthy business professional. Etiquette is about presenting yourself well in order to show that you can be respected and trusted. And while communication is perhaps not quite as formal as it used to be, “manners still maketh the man”.