Is etiquette too old-fashioned for digital communication? In an era where many social media, email and text users seem to put little thought into choosing their words, communication etiquette can set you apart with relatively little effort. In a business setting, that difference can take you a long way when building trust with current and potential customers. I’m often reminded of something I learned in college. Simply put, most people want to do business with those who they believe are least likely to throw them curve balls. Following rules of etiquette is one way to guard ourselves against throwing curve balls to customers, co-workers or allies.
WHAT EXACTLY IS ETIQUETTE?
“Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.”
According to Merriam-Webster, etiquette is, “The conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” I like author Will Cuppy’s definition better: “Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.” There’s no rocket science there. Simply keep yourself in check and pay attention to words and behaviors that can make people uncomfortable.
BUSINESS COMMUNICATION ETIQUETTE
Not everyone knows which fork to use when the salad arrives, and even fewer people, it seems, are familiar with business communication etiquette, especially when communicating electronically. The following sections offer a few tips that can help you avoid offending or confusing people when sending email messages and using mobile devices; next week, we’ll cover faxes (yes, businesses still use fax machines) and text messaging.
The Internet is full of tips for business communication etiquette. Here are a few important ones:
- Got it!–Always, always, always let someone know you received their email message. Emails occasionally get lost in cyberspace. The sender will appreciate knowing you received his or her message when you send a brief reply such as, “Got it!” If you don’t have the answer to someone’s question, indicate you must gather some information and will provide a response as soon as possible.
- Punctuation, please—Punctuation exists for a reason—it helps readers understand what you’re communicating to them. Characters don’t cost anything extra to send, so use them.
- Message first; address last—Wait until you’ve written—and proofread—your message before typing in the recipient’s address. Not only will you spare yourself from accidentally sending the message before it’s completed, but you’ll also be more likely to notice that your email system auto filled Mike Hill’s address instead of Mike Hall’s if you wait until the last step to enter the recipient’s address.
- Limit one topic per email—If you need to address multiple issues by email, send each topic in a separate email. Doing so will make it easier for the recipient to find the correct message later. Plus, people are notorious for reading only the first few sentences of emails.
- Don’t yell at me!—Avoid using all caps. It’s the e-mail equivalent of shouting at someone. Even a pleasant message will come off as annoying.
- Keep it simple, stupid!—Avoid complicated or lengthy emails. If you need to address multiple issues at one time, telephoning will save both parties a lot of time.
Mobile Device Etiquette
Much has been written about poor mobile device etiquette being a sign of the end of civilization as we know it. Adhering to basic etiquette when using a cell phone for business purposes is crucial for maintaining a good business reputation.
- In-person conversations before phone calls—Unless an incoming phone call is a matter of life and death, it’s rude to stop a conversation with someone you’re speaking with to answer. Doing so sends a clear message that the caller is more important than the person to whom you’re talking.
- Eyes up!—Think co-workers or customers don’t notice that you’re checking texts, email, or (gasp!) social media on your mobile device under the table? Think again. You might as well be in another room.
- Get personal somewhere else—Conduct personal phone calls out of hearing range of co-workers and customers. Personal conversations are often distracting and no one cares what your spouse wants you to pick up at the grocery store.
- Silence is golden—Turn your mobile device’s ringer off when near co-workers or customers, especially when you’re away from your workspace. There’s nothing more annoying than a cell phone that rings, chirps or plays the Lithuanian national anthem repeatedly.
Stay tuned for more tips next week.
By Mark Allen,
OGR CEO & Executive Director