Our parents taught us some basic social skills like keeping our elbows off the table and to have a firm, yet not death-grip, handshake. These are timeless but new scenarios have emerged. As a parent of four, I never considered that I should teach my kids some online etiquette, too. I wish I had, and at least my youngest will benefit from this reflection (lucky her!).
Other than “avoid all caps because it means you’re yelling,” there’s little guidance on how to be polite, polished, and effective using today’s modes of communication. Bad online etiquette can send employee, peer, and client relations plummeting. Offenses are certainly prolific.
So if mom taught us how to behave with all our electronic interactions, whether text, email, or other web-based channel, what are the three most important things she would have instructed?
Don’t skip “Hi” and “Bye”
As kids, most of us learned to answer the phone with something akin to: “Hello. Smith residence. To whom am I speaking?” and to end calls with: “Thank you for calling. Good bye.” Letters begin with “Dear” and end with “Cordially” but online, these openings and closings are usually absent. They aren’t just fancy formalities; they set a tone. They let people know our mindset. In print or online writing, we cannot consistently tell if someone is pleased or annoyed, calm or harried (and if harried or annoyed, is it due to us?) without clues.
When clues are absent, human nature dictates that the recipient will assume the worst.
With the first text you send in a day, or in any email, direct message, or instant message, greet someone before launching into your purpose for writing. Regardless of the sender’s intent, messages are perceived as demanding and curt when they lack an opening or when they end abruptly with no closing.
When did we become so rude? I think it probably preceded email and began with the fax coversheet. “See attached,” was innocent enough, but the beginning of very bad form. Is it really that hard to add, “Hello Jody, see attached. Best regards, Gene.”?
An opening as brief as “Hi,” is just fine in most cases. And when space permits, why not be even more pleasant with “Good morning” or “I hope this finds you well.”
Too many people are skipping sign-offs, too. Especially among colleagues or family members. Familiarity breeds contempt? If you don’t routinely write a closing, create an email auto-signature “Best wishes, Joe.” And if you send email from your handheld or tablet devices, tailor your auto-signature to indicate that you’re using a mobile device. This helps recipients understand that general brevity is most likely due to your tiny, awkward keypad and not something related to how you feel about them.
And if you’re done with your text, IM, or direct-message conversation, indicate it. “Gotta run, nice chatting,” or even GTG, TTYL (got to go, talk to you later) is more considerate than disappearing without closure.
Acknowledge people who address you
Do you go to a party and refuse to interact? When people come to your home, do you pretend they aren’t there? Of course not. Yet when people directly address each other electronically, all sorts of ignoring goes on.
We’re all busy, but if someone comments on your blog post, or sends you an email, sending even a quick, “Thanks for your message, I’ll give you a thoughtful reply as soon as possible!” goes a very long way.
If someone responds to your Facebook or LinkedIn post, or mentions you on their own or someone else’s post, do acknowledge the fact that they’ve spoken to you. Clicking “like” or typing “thanks” takes less than two seconds. People who post things on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or blogs, and fail to acknowledge any comments at all, come across as aloof and arrogant.