It’s not uncommon to be in a meeting and see everyone tapping away on his or her tablet or smartphone. What’s worst is when a speaker is trying to speak and no one is paying attention to what he or she is saying.
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This actually happened to me a while back. Some people were more interested in chatting up their friends than listening to my etiquette seminar!
With the proliferation of cell phones, tablets, social media, email and other technology, business relationships are in reality less social than they used to be. Even though all this technology has enabled us to communicate more quickly, it has isolated us from our fellow human beings. Long gone are the days when people were aware of the nuances of etiquette and knew the importance of minding their P's and Q's.
Nowadays, we rarely see the person with whom we’re communicating, so we forget that these rules still apply. But don’t be fooled into complacency. Manners are just as important now as they ever were, they just go by a new name: “techno-etiquette” (sometimes called “netiquette”).
Here are some guidelines to follow:
1. Treat online communications like business letters.
When sending a text or email for business, word it professionally. Avoid cutesy emoticons and fancy fonts or colors. Include a salutation and key points, and sign your name. In an email, include a professional signature.
2. Be brief but not abrupt.
Brevity is expected in online communications, but being too short can come off as abrupt or rude. Even when you are responding to someone else’s text or email, speak in complete sentences and include all relevant information that allows your response to stand alone.
Short, one-word answers like “yes” can be interpreted as curt. Of course, your communication style may vary if you know the person well and have established a casual working relationship.
3. Respond quickly.
There’s truth to the saying, “The early bird gets the worm.” This is the single, most important tip that will set you apart from the many competitors vying for the same business. When you receive an email, offer a courteous response within the same business day.
If you don’t have an answer, respond anyway. Let senders know you will get back to them within a specified period of time; otherwise they may think they are being ignored and will seek an answer from someone else.
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4. Be careful with "reply all.”
Respect the privacy of the sender by checking the distribution list before hitting “Reply All.” In many cases, the sender is the only one who requires a response. You may want to send a separate email if the correspondence contains sensitive or proprietary material.
5. Send attachments only with permission
Many companies have policies against opening unsolicited attachments, so it’s a good idea to ask before sending an attachment, especially if it is large. Inquire whether the recipient prefers attachments in one file or separate ones. For large attachments, use Dropbox.com or WeTransfer.com .
6. Don’t send unsolicited advertisements
Although electronic newsletters and messages promoting your latest product are effective ways to stay in touch with clients, sending them without permission is a quick way to lose business. Businesspeople receive far too many useless messages each day. Ask for permission to add people to your list, and offer an “opt out” link in every transmission.
7. Use the BCC feature.
When you want to send a message to a group of people but don’t want to share the addresses of your entire mailing list, use the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) function. Only the person to whom the correspondence is addressed appears in that person’s inbox.
8. Curtail humor and offensive language.
I once worked with a client who had a habit of using curse words in his email. Needless to say, he was the only one who didn't think he was doing anything wrong. In this global economy, humor and offensive language don’t translate well via email or text message.
Choose your words carefully, or else you may come across as sarcastic and unprofessional. Your messages can also easily be forwarded to others without your knowledge. Play it safe and don’t post anything you wouldn’t publish in your company newsletter or send to your grandmother.
9. Post when you are not available
Most of us make ourselves available 24/7, but when you want a break, don't hesitate to use the “Out of Office” or “Vacation Responder” feature. Use it to tell people when you are not available for an extended period of time and when you will return. Offer an alternate person to contact in your absence, along with that person’s contact information.
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Using good techno-etiquette will boost your business, enhance your company brand and make you shine every single time.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St....