Blame Alexander Graham Bell. In 1876, he invented the telephone; a completely new world of technology was born bringing with it both blessings and curses. In today’s global economy, technology is the essential link allowing us to communicate quickly and productively. But it can also lead to errors and misunderstandings that damage professional credibility.
The fallout from abusing email and cell phones adds to daily stress. To prevent frustration, here are some suggestions on handling “tech-no-etiquette” annoyances.
- Use the subject line to inform. An e-mail’s importance is often determined by its subject line. Keep the subject line brief, specific and relevant or the receiver might accidentally delete or mistake your email for spam.
- Treat emails like business letters. It’s better to be more formal than too casual when you want to make a good impression. First, include a salutation such as, “Dear Mr. Rodriguez” then focus on key points in the opening paragraph. Use the person’s surname until they respond by signing their email with their first name. This generally indicates that they don’t mind being addressed more casually.
- Don’t shout. Using all uppercase letters is considered CYBER SHOUTING. As an alternative, use asterisks to emphasize key words. “Bob and I had a *great* time at the convention last week.”
- Skip the fancy decorations. Vivid colors, flashing symbols or bouncing smiley faces (better known as “emoticons”) should be avoided in business communications.
- No email is private. If you wish to send someone confidential or time-sensitive information, use the phone or meet in person.
- Avoid mood mail. Email messages that convey strong emotion can be easily misinterpreted. Email should be avoided in potentially volatile circumstances when firing or reprimanding someone, or ending a contract, as these situations are best handled in person. Never send an e-mail when you’re angry. Take time to cool down and re-read the email before you send it to be sure it doesn’t contain anything you will regret later.
- Proof it before you send. It pays to check before you click. Before you hit the “send” button, check for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors.
- Respect others' privacy. There will be times when you need to deliver an email to a large group but don't want to launch a massive distribution list by emailing everyone together. If the recipients are unacquainted and you don’t want to divulge all addresses to all of the recipients, use the “BCC” or blind carbon copy function. When BCC is used, the only other email address that appears in the recipient's mailbox is that of the sender.
- Be cautious about using the “Reply All” feature. If you receive an email that was sent to a multitude of people, including yourself, reply only to those who require a response. Hit “reply all” only if it is crucial that every person on the distribution list see your response. In many cases, the sender is the only person who requires a response.
- Cute, quirky ring tones are not appropriate in all settings. Set your phone to silent, vibrate or on a standard ring tone when you are in a business setting or in a public area, such as a restaurant or party, where it could annoy others.
- Let your voice mail take your calls. Refrain from taking calls during religious services, job interviews, golf outings, movies, funerals, classes, business meetings, restaurants, courtrooms and public performances. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. If you are a physician on call, expectant father or a parent waiting for a child or babysitter to call, alert your clients, coworkers or companions ahead of time and step away when the call comes in.
- Learn the features on your cell phone. Text messaging and wireless emails are great ways to receive critical information without disrupting anyone near you. Discretion is always the better part of valor, so use these features in isolated situations only.
- Be courteous to those within hearing distance. Use discretion when discussing private matters or certain business topics in front of others. Matters such as medical exams, torrid love affairs, personal arguments or deals gone bust should be discussed in private.
- Don’t be guilty of “cell yell”. It’s not necessary to speak louder than normal for callers to hear you. Conversations that are likely to be emotional should be held where they will neither embarrass nor intrude on others.
- Don’t be a cell phone cop. If you encounter someone talking too loudly on a cell phone, don’t take matters into your own hands. Walk away, change locations if possible or find someone in a position of authority to address the situation.