Business etiquette isn't just about observing the social niceties; sometimes business etiquette is simply not irritating other people unnecessarily.
Here are things that irritate me; feel free to add your own in the comments:
1. Email to say you just left a voicemail.
You called. It's urgent. She didn't answer. You had to leave a voicemail. Crap. So you turn to your computer and send an email. You say, "I just left you a voicemail... please get it as soon as you can..." She doesn't respond right away. Crap. Now you go to Twitter and send a DM. "Hey, check your email and voicemail," it says. Nothing. Crap. Maybe you should post something on her Facebook wall...?
Or maybe not.
What you don't know is that she just isn't available; an earthquake wouldn't get her out of that client meeting.
What you do know is that she'll have to sift through all the stuff you sent when she does get out.
Give people a chance to respond. Sometimes they're just as busy as you are.
And if you absolutely must email to say you left a voicemail, go ahead and explain exactly what you need in the email, and tell her she can delete the voicemail. Or vice versa.
Never create a communication chain people have to follow.
2. Pretend to be "just checking in."
You and another vendor worked together on a project for a client a couple years ago. He calls. "Hi," he says. "I just thought I'd see how you're doing."
"I'm doing great," you say. You chat for a while. Finally you say, "Hey, it's good to hear from you--what can I do for you?"
"Nothing," he replies. "I just wanted to check in."
Ah. It's almost guaranteed he'll call back a few days later, wanting something.
If you want something, don't pretend you're just checking in. Say "hi." Then get to the point. Describe what you want. Ask for what you need.
Pretending otherwise is just insulting.
We're not stupid. We know you want something. We're cool with that.
So get to it.
3. Set up an email auto-response... and then respond.
It's disconcerting to get a live response 10 minutes after an auto-response. Hmm, you think. Does that mean I'm really important? But wait, he didn't respond to that other email I sent? Does that mean...?
If you know you won't be checking in, auto-responses are fine. (Just make sure each individual only gets one--nothing is worse than serial auto-responses.)
A better approach is to tell key people ahead of time that you'll be away and how you plan to communicate during that time. Then you can respond on your own terms--and they'll understand.
Because face it--you're not fooling anyone, especially yourself: Regardless of your intentions, you will be checking in.
4. Forget "no" is the new "yes."
We're all raised to say "yes." We like to help people. We like to be supportive. We like to come through. Yes is polite. Yes doesn't create hurt feelings.
But we don't have time to say yes to anywhere close to everything... and when we have too many "yeses" on our plate we don't come through. Even if we wanted to, we can't come through. That sucks for everyone.
Most people are disappointed by no, but they understand. They're cool with it. An initial yes creates excitement, and then when yes someday turns into no, at the very least that will cause hurt feelings.
Then there are some requests we shouldn't accept, even if we do have time: Requests for introductions to certain contacts, requests for unusual favors, requests for a huge quid when there is not and will never be a pro quo...
See no as your best way to protect something incredibly precious. Time. Time to do what you need to do.
5. Forget "no" really does mean "no."
Then flip things around. Ask once. If you hear "no," and you're not in sales, don't ask again.
This is especially true in social media. According to a Robert Half survey, 39% of respondents were "not very comfortable" or "not comfortable at all" with friend or connection requests from people who manage them. The percentages were almost identical for clients, and even worse for vendors.
If employees, clients, or vendors ask to connect with you, go for it.
But if you ask, take no for an answer--or better yet, consider not asking at all.
6. Tag other people in a photo without their permission.
Yeah, you took the photo so yeah, you own the legal rights and can reproduce, distribute, and otherwise use it as you see fit, even if I'm in it. Hooray for you. That doesn't mean I like how I look in the photo... and that definitely doesn't mean I want it to be easy for other people to see it.
Always ask before you tag. Better yet, don't tag at all. All you're doing is trying to impress people by who you know anyway.
(By the way: If getting tagged really irritates you, set up an alert that notifies you whenever you've been tagged in a photo.)
7. Make someone read an entire email thread to figure out what you want.
In general, you should include the thread if it's helpful for background information, but say clearly what you want right up front.
Give the recipient the option of reading more if they want to, but never make them need to.
8. Assume what is urgent to you is urgent to the recipient.
News flash: It almost never is. To recipients, an email flagged as "high priority" only indicates that you think you are the high priority.
Forget the flags and use the subject line to get attention. Your employees won't ignore a subject line like, "I need your help: We're about to lose our client!"
9. Connect your tweets to your LinkedIn account.
This is especially true if many of your followers are also connections. Unlike ice cream, people don't like to be double-dipped.
No one wants to read about your killer lunch meeting twice.
10. Use the reply-all button.
Anything that is nice to know won't be remembered anyway. And someday, somehow, you'll email someone you shouldn't... and things will never be the same.
Instead, always add multiple recipients manually. You'll be forced to think twice before wasting someone's time and you'll also avoid, say, sending that cost estimate to a vendor that you intended for the client.
11. Use email for arguing, criticizing, giving bad news, or saying "no."
Good news? Fine, email away.
Bad news? Deliver it by phone or in person.
Of course you should apply a little judgment: If someone you don't know emails asking for a favor, it's okay to say "no" by email. But if you have some sort of relationship, or they are someone whose opinion you value, or you've ever met or talked to them before... don't deliver bad news by email.
That's just hiding behind the technology.
Are there things you find really irritating? Share in the comments below!