I sure hope not. Let’s face it though; modern technology has changed the methods and the speed at which we communicate. But have we traded courtesy and proper spelling for speed and convenience? Again, I sure hope not.
In business, technology has allowed us to become a connected society that relies heavily on the ability to share information, respond and provide feedback almost instantly. Business moves at a faster pace, and more work gets done in shorter periods of time. We sit at our desks and can respond to email as fast as they come in; we can step away from our desks and continue to respond from our smart phones. We like things on Facebook, Tweet them on Twitter and engage with our clients and co-workers using various social media outlets. Hooray! We have broken down communication barriers that allow people to work remotely and allow companies to expand their reach with both clients and employees.
The biggest thing to remember is that a speedy response should not be an excuse for poor manners, bad grammar and atrocious spelling – among other etiquette conundrums. While the list of digital communication etiquette is long and daunting, to say the least, here are a few tips to cover off on the basics. Trust me, following this basic business etiquette can go a long way in how you are perceived by those you do business with.
Spelling and acronyms – You would be hard pressed to find a computer or smart phone that is not equipped with spell check. Now, it is not going to catch everything, but it’s definitely a start to catching the obvious misspellings in your communication. When communicating in forums that don’t have the convenience of spell check – refer to the next tip below. As for all the acronyms that are used today (the IM, text message jargon); my advice would be to make sure you know your audience. In business communication, an LOL, JK or IMHO may leave me SMH if I have no idea what it means (true story, I had to look up SMH the first time I saw it). And please, don’t use acronyms in a cover letter (another true story…I have seen it…more than once!). One more thing, please keep the excuses to yourself…typing on your smart phone, in traffic, with one hand, while drinking your morning coffee only seems like a good reason for poor spelling and grammar.
Re-read your communication – Whether it’s an email from your Smartphone or a post on Facebook, a quick scan will go a long way in making sure you are getting your point across. When dealing with Tweets, abbreviations are a blessing when trying to get your thoughts into 140 characters or less – but the tweet is meaningless if no one can understand it.
Be courteous of other people’s time – I personally think this one is huge. When you are responding to an email (and you are re-reading it based on the tip above – wink!), ensure you have made your point; properly answered all questions that were being asked; and added value to the conversation. When dealing with multiple time zones, an unanswered question can be a real hold-up.
Please and Thank You– You learned it in Kindergarten, and it still applies today. Some things never change, and a properly used please and/or thank you, can make the difference in the perceived tone of your communication. If you are asking for something…please never gets old; and once you have what you need, a thank you is just the right thing to do.
Don’t be Non-Responsive – Always respond in a timely manner to emails where an action or a question has been asked of you. If you don’t have an immediate answer, a quick response indicating that you are working towards one – along with setting the expectation as to when they can expect it – will ensure that your colleagues are not guessing whether you received their email. It saves on unnecessary follow-ups and frustration.
The Subject Line is your Friend – We have all been there…the email message in our inbox with the vague (or even missing) subject line. Ensure your audience can assess the content by being clear and concise. It also helps if your subject includes some direction. Since I often handle HR and personnel issues that require additional sensitivity, I will put things like IMPORTANT:, CONFIDENTIAL: or ACTION REQUIRED: in the subject line so my audience can make a quick judgment as to what is needed from them.
CC’s, BCC’s and High Importance! – In my experience, I think the CC and BCC are areas where many people struggle when communicating by email. Here are a few tips to break it down:
- CC – Used when you are sending correspondence to primary recipients, but want others to be looped into the communication. While the cc historically means carbon copy (ick, carbon paper!), I personally like to think of it as “courtesy copy.” If you require feedback or input from the person, move their name to the “To” line to ensure there is no confusion. I once read an article where a high level executive noted that he never read emails where he was on the cc line.
- Another point to consider is that this is a good place to show respect for people’s time – I’m not a big fan of using the cc as your own personal CYA mechanism. Think about whether the person has a real, vested interest in being on that email. Oh, and use discretion and common sense when replying. If the whole team has a real use for your response, don’t forget to include them when you reply. Simply saying thanks, or passing along other information not relevant to the original thread doesn’t usually need a “reply all.”
- BCC – The big question on The Blind Carbon Copy – to use, or not to use! Think hard and fast about when to use this tool. If you are again going for that CYA, remember that it may come back to bite you if someone BCC’d decides to chime in to the conversation. It could show you in a bad light to your colleagues. It is, however, a great tool to use for privacy when you don’t want to share the individual email addresses with a large group of recipients – such as the email forward of a joke or other correspondence.
- High Importance – Really, only use this when your communication is important.
We are all caught in the endless cycle of making sure our emails, tweets and posts are acknowledged and hopefully responded to. Manners, common sense and business etiquette are the easiest way to ensure that your communication style stands out. Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy.” Personally, I could not agree more.