The holidays are a time for connecting with family, friends, colleagues, and clients. The season is about spreading warmth and goodwill. Goodwill is composed of many elements, not the least of which is politeness.
Sadly, politeness and goodwill can be lost in the new shorthand world of texting, emailing, and posting on social media. But, when you are working in those media, you should follow the same rules of behavior you always have followed in social and professional situations. You must abide by etiquette rules concerning the professional, proper, and polite way to communicate with people online. In other words, you must follow the rules of netiquette.
Here are some of those rules:
Be specific, helpful, and correct.
Just as you would identify yourself on the telephone or in person, you should begin your electronic messages with a greeting and end them with your name. You can use a signature line that can post automatically to every outgoing message and contains your contact information. Make sure the reference line in an email is specific and helpful to the reader.
Consider that your reader may want to keep and refer to something you’ve written. Thus, you always should strive for high standards of quality every time. Don’t ignore spelling, grammar, or punctuation rules. Make sure the substance of your writing is meaningful.
Exhibit time awareness and sensitivity.
Respect other people’s time. Resist the temptation to share or forward every message that comes across your phone or computer. Carefully consider whether the content is relevant before you hit send or reply all. Don’t attach unnecessary files or graphics.
Always respond promptly, even if it merely is to acknowledge the message and to say you will write fully later.
You can’t control what a recipient will do with your messages, and they can be forwarded without your knowledge or permission. Thus, use caution when transmitting personal, confidential, or sensitive information. If this is something you would not want to see published in a newspaper or read before a judge, don’t send it.
Use caution with humor and emotions.
Be frugal with the use of humor. Your body language in person or through your voice on the telephone can successfully convey that you are joking. However, when you overuse humor in writing, your reader may dismiss you as silly or shallow or may think you are being sarcastic or mocking.
Control your emotions before crafting your message. Flaming — sending inflammatory remarks — should be used rarely, if at all. The reaction you get from that rude response can backfire spectacularly. Don’t type your message in all uppercase letters because that is interpreted as shouting. And refrain from using any language you would not want your grandmother to read!
On the other hand, your business writing need not be stuffy or cold. You can inject emotion or personality into your online messages through emoticons (computer-generated faces). However, in business writing, you should limit their use to smiling faces depicting happiness or joy. If you truly are sad, you should send a client a properly worded message, rather than adding a crying emoticon. Naturally, these devices should be used sparingly because too many can detract from your message or be construed negatively.
Think twice before you send.
Finally, reread everything before you send it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve an errant electronic communication.
This week’s Hot Tip Tuesday was based on materials found in The CTA program’s Business Writing Skills module.