Communications Etiquette: Challenges of Changing Technology

Beware of the communications faux pas that occur when a new technology or form of communication takes hold and goes mainstream in the business world.  Sometimes things that were accepted when the new form was being developed and moved forward, which generally happens in a more casual atmosphere, don't work when the tool becomes common in use in more formal settings.

Let's use text messaging as an example.  Some of the common text abbreviations like LOL (which could mean "laugh out loud” or “lots of love") just don't work, and could be considered offensive, in a business setting.  The classic example is to never say anything in text message or email for that matter that you would not say to someone's face, whether it is the person you are emailing or the person who you are talking about in the email.  This is because emails are a written record with your byline attached to them. These notes can be sent or forwarded purposefully or by mistake to others whom you might not want to know what you think about them.

Below are some good general rules for e-communication etiquette in the office.

  1. Use Instant Messaging and text messages only for short requests or immediate responses.
  2. Use email sparingly and don't expect people to respond right away.
  3. Use the phone for building rapport or to discuss delicate matters
  4. If you are going on travel and cannot be reached, leave phone and email answering messages that note this to anyone who might try to contact you.
  5. Do not use humor, sarcasm, or anything that might be considered flirtatious at work.  It might be misinterpreted and cause trouble.
  6. Do not use “emoticons” like smiley faces :) or frowny faces :( or other graphics in your emails, they make you look unprofessional.
  7. Keep a record of important decisions reached over the phone or via IM and print out a copy and file any important emails or messages.
  8. Don't say anything in an email or digital communication that you would not want to have read out loud in a staff meeting.
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