Techno-Etiquette

By Jill Bremer, AICI CIP

The use of telephones, cell phones, speakerphones, voice mail, email and faxes has become a way of life in business. However, the rules of etiquette have not always kept pace with the innovations of technology. Here, then, is a primer on the “do’s and don’ts” of techno-etiquette.

EMAIL

Email has become the preferred method of communication for many people in business, but if not used properly, can become hazardous to relationships and careers. Email is a silent form of communication. One can neither see you as you say the words nor hear your vocal inflections; the message is contained entirely in the words you choose to write and send. Because the reader misses out on the nuances of your verbal and visual delivery the results are often miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Before you hit the send button, it’s important to proof the content for spelling and grammar mistakes. But it’s also important to read the message aloud; it’s the only way to check the tone of your message. Does it sound polite, brusque, respectful, mean? Say it out loud and you’ll be able to hear how it will sound in the recipient’s head when he or she reads it. Don’t forget to add “please” and “thank you”. Those two phrases can transform the snippiest of demands into a polite request.

Email is best used for short, simple and straightforward information. Any message longer than about half the computer screen is too long. If your content is long, consider introducing the subject in a short email and sending the details as an attachment or fax. Keep in mind, though, that you should first ask permission before attaching any large files. I also suggest that you send break up emails with multiple ideas into single-subject emails. This means that you may be sending two or three emails to someone instead of one, but in the long run, several single-subject emails will be more convenient for the recipient to file, forward and respond to than one long one.

The use of email has become important in business because it provides, in writing, information that one needs quickly. But never let the convenience of email overshadow the value of a phone call or face-to-face meeting. The “human touch” is often missing from our communications and customers and co-workers alike will appreciate the time and effort it took for you to call or stop by. Try doing both at once – send an email, but call as well to give the recipient a “heads up”. Hearing your message will enhance their reading of it.

  • Assume any message you send is permanent and may likely be forwarded to others.
  • Start with a salutation. Continue to use salutations until the relationship is well established.
  • Respond to all questions when returning e-mail.
  • Do not use email to send trivial, confidential or sensitive information. Anything truly sensitive or urgent should be telephoned.
  • Never use email to reprimand someone.
  • Never express political or religious opinions via email.
  • Use humor and sarcasm sparingly. Recipients may not “get” the joke.
  • Use industry or email acronyms, abbreviations, or emoticons sparingly.
  • Define your subject in the subject line.
  • Use upper and lower case when writing.
  • Use signatures with complete personal contact information.
  • Allow 1-2 days for a response. If you need an immediate response, call as well.
  • Respond to your incoming emails within 24 hours. If you need more time to respond, call or email that you are looking into it and will get back to them ASAP.

CELL PHONE/BEEPER

We all have a love-hate relationship with cell phones. They’re wonderful when we need them, but annoyed when we hear someone else’s cell phone ring or are forced to listen to their side of a conversation. Conducting a cell phone conversation in a public place is only appropriate in an emergency. Remove yourself to a private location before placing any cell phone call.  There’s really only one correct way for cell phones to ring, and that is not at all. Turn all phones and beepers to vibrate only. End of discussion.

TELEPHONE

  • Answer incoming calls quickly identifying yourself by first and last name.
  • Identify yourself whenever you place a call – first and last name, company, and nature of call.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Listen attentively and add verbal agreement.
  • Use honorifics: Mr., Ms., Dr., Sir, Ma’am.
  • Return messages within 24 hours.
  • If you’re in someone else’s office when they get a phone call, offer to step outside.
  • Don’t take any calls when someone is in your office, unless it’s urgent.
  • Don’t talk to anyone else while you’re on the phone.
  • Don’t do any other work or eat while on the phone.
  • Holds – ask the other party if they are able to hold. Never keep someone on hold for more than a minute. Each time you return, thank them for holding.

VOICEMAIL

  • Your outgoing message should include your name, title and company name.
  • Keep your outgoing voicemail message current. Update the message weekly or daily.
  • When out of town, state in your message when you’ll be back, whether you’ll be checking in for messages, how to contact you or who to contact in your absence.
  • When leaving voicemail for others, give your name slowly with proper spelling, company name and phone number. Briefly specify the purpose of your call. Let them know the best time to reach you. Leave your phone number again at the end of the message.
  • Try not to ramble when leaving voicemail. Messages should be no longer than thirty seconds.

SPEAKERPHONE

  • Use speakerphones sparingly. Whenever you use one, always ask the other party’s permission to do so and identify everyone in the room with you.
  • During conference calls, participants should identify themselves whenever speaking.
  • Consider picking the phone up periodically during the call to add a “human touch” to the conversation.

FAX

Faxes have the potential for being quite public; they can be read by anyone who happens across them at the machine. As with email, be careful never to fax admonishments or sensitive content. If you need to send confidential information via fax, call the recipient and ask that they wait by the machine at their end. Sending thank-yous, congratulatory notes, or any kind of inappropriate jokes or pictures is considered tacky and bad form.

Jill Bremer, AICI CIP, owner of Jill Bremer Executive Coaching, offers training, consulting and coaching in professional image development, communication and presentation skills. Her clients include Oracle, Abbott Labs, W.W. Grainger, U.S. Department of Energy and the National Association of Realtors. She can be reached at 708-848-5945 or at www.jillbremer.com

Copyright © 2004 Jill Bremer All Rights Reserved