We Can All Use a Little Online Etiquette

JAGWIRE's Blog on NetiquetteWhen the Internet exploded onto the scene in 1996, communication as we knew it changed forever.  Suddenly we could send Ethernet greetings and thank you notes to almost anyone with a few keystrokes; forsaking the neatly hand-written note that Emily Post had espoused since 1922. When the Internet went mainstream it also became a convenient bully pulpit to broadcast our opinions. And we let them rip with abandon. Why not? We could now hide behind email aliases and pseudonyms to unleash our alter egos.

So where does The Emily Post Institute weigh in on etiquette for the Web or netiquette? The official Website states: “As new technology emerges, there are new manners associated with these new methods of communication. However maintaining the standards of communication that have served and will continue to serve us well into the future is what’s important.”

Etiquette “is about treating people with consideration, honesty and respect,” says Anna Post, who is following in her Great, Great Grandmother Emily Post’s foot steps as a spokesperson and author at The Emily Post Institute. In June she was the featured speaker at a Business Wire Webinar entitled “Etiquette for the Digital Age.”  Business Wire has graciously archived the Webinar slides and audio, and they are well worth viewing. In fact, a little netiquette may even save your job when your colleague replies to your rant about your boss, and oops, copies “All Employees,” which includes your boss. What do you do in that case? Do you know what you should do if you are meeting with a colleague when you get a phone call from an important client? A few of these questions are raised and answered thoughtfully by Ms. Post.

Here are a few primers.

Etiquette “is not just about the forks and knives,” says Ms. Post. People form impressions by how we present ourselves over this technology, she added. The first rule of communication is that “the good communicator is a good listener.” A few other rules of communication that apply to email, cell phones and texting are as follows, according to the younger Post:

Top Communication Guidelines:

  • Be aware if it is public or private: Ask yourself should I be taking this call in someone’s lobby?
  • Proofread: The focus is on your mistakes. Because the focus does go to mistakes
  • Pay special attention to proper names
  • You can cannot hide or salvage the poor [messages]

Quick Tips for Email Communication

  • Let it simmer: When you are upset or angry, give it 5-10 minutes. Read it out loud or when in real doubt ask a colleague how it sounds.
  • Your subject line is your first impression: You want to have a subject line. Make sure it is spelled correctly, and is pertinent.
  • Grammar and word choice matter: Spell check is not always accurate. Re-read your email.
  • Be conscious of your voice: 1) ALL CAPs: We all know that ALL CAPS is shouting in email speak; 2) Emoticons: Miss Post has mixed feelings about emoticons ;-). They can make you look juvenile so you shouldn’t use them in communications with clients, but on the other hand they can be a nice touch with people you know well. A smiley face can make it clear that you are not angry; 3) Text Messages: It’s worth the effort to spell out words rather than using text message speak because on a big computer screen it can look like a “tiny squawk.” Also, Ms Post said she is wary because she doesn’t always know the age of the person she is texting, even though it is very common in her generation.
  • Salutations, closings and signature blocks: “Hello,” “Hello All,” “Best,” “Best Regards,” “Kind Regards,” “Thanks,” “Sincerely,” are perfectly okay, if a little formal.  It’s recommended that you only use “Warmly,” and”Warmest Regards” if you know the person very well.  Surprisingly, a lot of people do not like “hey.” They hear it more as a jab than a greeting. If you want to be a little more formal go with your “Dears,” and “Hellos.” “Hi” is also “perfectly okay.” Signature blocks are fine, but don’t let it be your sign-off. You should still make the effort to sign off with a “Best Regards” or other signature with your name.

Should this presentation strike you as just plain old common sense, reflect on this. Several years ago when an AP/IPSOS Manner’s poll asked “Have you used your cell phone in a loud or annoying manner in the past few months” only eight percent of the respondents replied yes. Seems low doesn’t it? According to Ms. Post that’s because it’s easier to perceive rudeness in others rather than ourselves.

In a slide entitled “When Words Alone Are Your Image,” Ms. Post noted that “in the absence of facial expressions or tone of voice, interpretation defaults to the negative.” This means that you should never use email or IM to avoid a difficult situation. And it is always best to pick up the phone or visit someone in person if email communication becomes strained or tense. She referred to a recent article in The New York Times about how many signals we pick up from other people that we don’t even know we are processing. I did a search for the article, which I believe is this fascinating article entitled “Seeking Emotional Clues Without Facial Cues.”

For more netiquette advice on modern office manners check out the presentation. Ms. Post focuses on Cell Phones and Office Phones, providing Smart Phone tips, and even tips on iPod and Earbud use.

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