While technology has given people even more ways to connect, it also has a way of making them feel more disconnected than ever. Why pick up the phone when you can hide behind an email? Why have a face-to-face conversation when you can shoot off a quick IM? And, why the heck have you not received a response yet... it's already been, like, two minutes?!
There are no standard mores when it comes to technology--and that's a problem.
As fellow Inc.com columnist Eliza Browning notes, modern-day business etiquette remains chiefly an exercise in value and respect. Here are some rules to live by:
1. Don't get lost in translation.
Tone, context, and subtle nuances are easily lost in translation online. Before sending, tweeting, posting, etc., ask yourself if your message could be misconstrued or misinterpreted. If there's any doubt, pick up the phone.
To state the obvious: Emails cannot be undone--so watch what you say and whom you copy. Don't write anything in an email that you wouldn't be comfortable saying publicly. If you're going to add people to an email conversation, let the recipients know ("I'm copying John Smith, our head of marketing, here").
Jumping into online conversations, say, on Twitter, is another area where you can get into trouble. Just as you wouldn't insert yourself into a dialogue with strangers without first listening to the discussion, don't dive right into an exchange online. You're apt to respond emotionally. What can you contribute to the conversation? If you can't add insights or information of value, your commentary probably is better left unsaid. Be relevant and stay on topic.
2. Respond carefully and on time.
Be timely with email responses: Most should happen within 24 hours. Failing this, consider writing a brief note letting the person know when you'll send a proper response. ("So sorry, tied up with a last-minute deadline--I'll drop a line by the end of the week.")
Keep subject lines brief and directly related to the contents of your email. Before marking messages as urgent, consider whether the recipient would assign it equal priority. Likewise, prior to hitting Reply All, consider whether it's important for everyone copied to receive your response.
When composing important or high-stakes emails, write them out, save them as drafts, and then read them aloud later. Crucial messages deserve a second or third read-through.
3. Be considerate and appropriate.
OK, this one may seem obvious... but think about, say, the last meeting you attended. How many colleagues brought along their smartphones and texted, tweeted, or sent emails during the meeting? Probably more than you think. If you don't want your employees to do it, then set the standard yourself. Don't even let your phone be visible during meetings. Or, if you must have it out, put it on Airplane Mode and turn volume levels off.
Your employees, customers, partners, etc. deserve your full attention in meetings and conference calls. So give it to them. In most cases, the calls, the emails, the texts can all wait.
Scott's forthcoming book is Netiquette: An Expert Guide to High-Tech and Online Etiquette