Courtesy – Electronic Style
August 1, 2004 By Pulp & Paper Canada
Most people would never think of ignoring a question asked by a customer or colleague over the phone or in person. But these same people routinely do so when the same question arrives via email or voicemail. Nor would you shout or snarl at someone…
Most people would never think of ignoring a question asked by a customer or colleague over the phone or in person. But these same people routinely do so when the same question arrives via email or voicemail. Nor would you shout or snarl at someone face-to-face, but when sending a message electronically, it is so easy to do so. Many companies have guidelines for responding to or handling such messages, but these guidelines are often not disseminated or ignored. It is not unusual for people to use “I didn’t get the message/email” or “Our system was/went down” as a method of explaining their lack of response when finally caught. However there are some simple rules for keeping on top of messages and for correctly handling your messages. There is a reason for courtesy — it is not just meaningless form. Courtesy is the lubricant in the social machinery — like it or not, we are dealing with people everyday, and courtesy is what keeps our interactions running smoothly. We would not run a motor or gearbox without lubrication, nor should we handle our day to day personal transactions without the lubrication of courtesy. Courtesy for messages — whether email or voicemail — can be summed up in two words: “consideration” and “responsiveness”.
The ‘To:’ field is for people from whom you need a response or who are directly involved. The ‘cc:’ field is for people who need to be informed, but do not necessarily need to respond.
Use conventional punctuation — it was developed to make the written word easier to comprehend. All UPPERCASE is considered shouting, while all lowercase is difficult to follow.
Always include a descriptive subject in an email, and preface a voicemail with a (very) brief introduction. This allows the recipient to immediately understand what the message is about.
Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as you would in conversation. Remember the ‘lubrication’ issue above…
Both email and voicemail are professional communications — be more courteous in your language than you would be in person.
Do not send broadcast messages. No matter how proud you are of the office soccer team’s great win, do not send those 5Mb of photos to everyone in the company. This also applies to any other events, personal or business. Send messages only to those people who have involvement with the content.
Do not send inappropriate messages. If in doubt, do not send it — remember, email is forever. Anything you send can be forwarded or printed, and is stored somewhere. In addition, email can be subpoenaed. Voicemail is also easily forwarded — usually to the people you would least want to hear it.
Although email is a great way to document or inform, it is a poor substitute for live contact. This is especially true if what you have to say is sensitive or when you are angry or upset — there is no better time for personal contact than when the message contains a large emotional component. It may feel easier to send that unpleasant message impersonally, but it is not a better way.
Use spell check. Most email programs can be set to check the spelling automatically when the message is sent.
Do not use voicemail when you are eating or in an ‘”inappropriate” location. It is amazing what sounds a cell phone can pick up in places like a restroom…
[ed.note: an additional comment from one of our staff would be to please keep in mind that using force when hanging up the phone results in a rather loud and unpleasant “click” for the listener.]
Email — respond within 48 hours if you are in the ‘To:’ list. The same applies if you are in the ‘cc:’ list and have something to contribute. There is nothing worse than making a decision, only to discover a previously-unknown factor in your inbox three days later. Do not be concerned if your addressees do not respond to your message in this time frame — they may have had a crisis or other event that prevents a timely response.
Voicemail — respond immediately if a response is required. Even if all you say is that you are looking into their inquiry, at least the sender knows you are acting on their message.
Electronic communications are wonderful time savers and can greatly improve our efficiency. However, we should allow them to become disconnected from our colleagues and customers. Use email and voicemail to enhance our personal communications, not to replace them. Remember that you are dealing with people — be nice.
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