Do you need Comm-etiquette lessons?

Its safe to say,  most people know how to act when meeting and speaking with people.  Most of us have learnt this etiquette from our parents and in some cases might have even learn this sort of stuff at school.

The next step after etiquette I suppose was net-iquette.  For example, when using email,  most people know to include a subject line in an email and not to use capitals as that's 'shouting'.  This form of etiquette is something we have learnt from friends in the work place and in the most part people just seem to know what's right and wrong to do when conversing over email.

So what happens when you have multiple modes of communication?  When should you use what type of communication?  In an 'always on' world ... when is it considered manners to switch off?.

With this conundrum in mind,  I have been speaking with The Finishing Academy and we have come up with the following guide to Comm-etiquette. 

Please read and absorb,  you will be tested on this later 😉


Email? IM? Or phone? – What is proper business etiquette?

The Finishing Academy and Microsoft produce guide to business communications in today’s technologically advanced world

Much has been written, mandated or speculated over the correct etiquette for email usage, particularly as it overtakes the telephone and face to face meetings as the primary form of communication for many. However, with the use of Instant Messaging (IM), web conferencing and text messaging becoming a common addition to these staple methods of communication, questions arise as to when each should be used. Is it a lottery or are there etiquette rules that need to be considered?

Microsoft has teamed up with etiquette experts at The Finishing Academy, which specialises in business and social etiquette and manners, to produce a guide to the correct situation and form for using each. Ultimately, the way one communicates with someone will evolve as the relationship with that person evolves, but there are ten key points which should be considered – especially at the start of a business relationship:

Mark Deakin, Unified Communications Manager, Microsoft said: “Our research and anecdotal evidence suggests that Instant Messaging is now rife amongst information workers, yet often people are using it poorly. Combined with the widespread misuse of email and an increasing aversion to the phone, it seems there is confusion over when to use which method of communication. The technology is there to help people communicate and collaborate better, and done right it can be a real boon.”

Penny Edge at the Finishing Academy said: “Business etiquette and communications etiquette is always evolving as technology or social acceptances change, but many of the same principals shouldn’t be ignored and are as applicable as always in the more connected modern world.”

1. Think about how the recipient wants to be contacted

Do you highlight the best method for you when you give out your business card? Simply underlining the email address or IM details lets people know that in most cases that’s the best way to get hold of you. With more methods of communication available it is also important to give out the relevant contact details. Do people have your IM details, or if you are going to be away from your desk, do they have a mobile number?

Remember to respect the way that others want to be contacted. If their IM is set to ‘busy’ or ‘away’ do not contact them through this channel, it is frowned upon as well as being a waste of time. Send an e-mail instead so they can pick it up when they are available.

2. Work on your online presence

With a wider range of communications options available it is important to let people know your status so they can contact you in the most effective manner.

If you are at your desk remember to set your IM status to online, changing it to busy or away as necessary. This will work in your favour, encouraging others to contact you appropriately. However the opposite is also true that if you are appearing as offline, then you shouldn’t contact others. Also remember to set your out of office if you are not going to be at work for a while.

3. Use IM for short requests

IM is a great tool when you want an immediate response and should be used as such. Likewise a simple question or response is better suited to IM than clogging up someone’s, usually overflowing, inbox.

However, it is not the appropriate forum to discuss lengthy or complicated issues so leave IM for the quick question and answer.

4. Don’t forget the phone

There is a discernible trend away from verbal communication, with e-mail taking over as the predominant channel of communication and other options like IM coming into play. However, there are still occasions when an old fashioned phone conversation is the most appropriate form of communication and it should be encouraged unless we want to turn into a nation of robots, loosing the knack of verbal communication.

Telephone conversations offer the most personal form of communication outside of face to face meetings. This makes them most suitable for building a rapport with new contacts or when dealing with delicate issues. It sounds obvious, but when you need to convey a lot of information immediately or when you need to quickly resolve an issue that will require a lot of discussion, then the phone is your friend.

5. Use email sparingly

Do you use e-mail as a default method of communication without considering the other options? As detailed above, there are times when IM or a phone call will be more appropriate.

E-mail does retain an important role in communications but should be used only when relevant. E-mail is useful when there is a discussion that needs to take place but the outcome does not need to be resolved immediately. In this situation it allows both parties to manage their time and respond when available. E-mail is also the most suitable forum when a lot of thought needs to go into a particular issue, allowing both parties time to address the facts before responding. Finally, e-mail is a useful tool when many different parties need to be involved in a discussion, allowing you to copy in all relevant correspondents.

6. Be careful when using humour and sarcasm

Humour and sarcasm can be easily misconstrued. In order to avoid causing offence think about how well you know the person in question. Do you have a longstanding relationship where humour or sarcasm will be understood and appreciated? If in doubt they should be avoided, and a more formal tone adopted.

When using humour or sarcasm think about how your comment will be construed. It is easy for even close contacts to misread the tone in which a comment is meant, especially over e-mail or IM. Even though the humour or sarcasm reads clearly to you it could still come across ambiguously to others.

7. Be careful in the use of ‘emoticons’

Emoticons can be useful in specifying the mood of a communication, the popular ‘smiley’ face, the ‘surprised’ face and similar. However they should be used carefully. While fine in personal communications they can appear less appropriate in a business environment. Think about how formal the business relationship is, some industries will be more relaxed then others. Also, how long you have known the person in question? If you have built up an informal relationship the use of emoticons will be more appropriate. Remember there will also be international considerations, for some Europeans tend to be more formal in their business correspondence. If in doubt it is best to avoid the use of emoticons altogether.

8. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to their face

Lack of face to face contact often fools us into a false sense of security, but it is easier to overstep the boundaries when you are hiding behind an e-mail or an IM. It is important to remember that communication through these methods needs to be equivalent to a face to face conversation, do not feel tempted to say anything that you would not feel comfortable saying to their face.

9. Respect who you’re communicating with; don’t read emails when on the phone or in a meeting

The communications options now available allow us to limit face to face meetings, with resulting time and environmental benefits. However, the phone calls and online meetings that replace face to face meetings should be given the same level of attention. You would not check your e-mail or IM other people when in a face to face meeting, and this is equally inappropriate during a phone call or online meeting that warrants your full attention.

The same goes for answering phone calls or texting; it is bad form to speak on the phone or send an SMS when in a group of people whether that be socially or in a business situation. You risk making the other people feel less important as your attention is being directed elsewhere. The best option is to turn your phone off, or at least onto silent mode, in these situations.

10. Manage the information collated through different methods of communication

Most business conversations will now rely on a combination of different modes of communication, switching between methods as appropriate. This facilitates more effective communication, allowing people to dictate how they prefer to be contacted. However, with information being relayed through a variety of channels it can become difficult to record what has been said and when. This is another factor to take into consideration when deciding upon the appropriate forum. If you need a written record of your correspondence e-mail will be your best option. There is also a case for keeping records of important decisions reached over the phone or IM.

Comments (9)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Are you a polite or a rude user of communication technology? We've teamed up with The Finishing Academy

  2. Anonymous says:


    In complete agrement. As technologists when we roll out tools to our users, we often think that the job is complete when the system is working. However i think that a very important section of the roll-out are the "softer" phases such as Training, and the user experience. Corporate Guidelines around the use and etiquette are necessary and often get forgotten


  3. Anonymous says:

    I've blogged on this topic before but Mark Deakin has just blogged on the subject of communications

  4. Spelling and grammer is certainly important,  although it will depend on the audience.

    When I type an email,  Outlook corrects my spelling and grammer for me but using IM more and more has highlighted to me how bad my spelling really is :-S

  5. To butcher an analogy,  you can take a horse to water but to make it drink properly is another thing !?


  6. Joachim Farla says:

    Thanks! I also post an reference @ my UC-blog.

  7. Flying-Q says:

    Having read the above article, I find no mention of the requirement for good spelling and grammar.  Whether a letter is written in the traditional manner on paper, or as an e-mail or even an Instant Message, readability is better for correctly formatted and spelt language.


  8. Carl Tyler says:

    I like this list, it has a lot in common with the list I had published in a Forbes article about a year ago:

  9. J says:

    It would be good, if there were some specific examples of what kind of communication can happen over the phone and what can be done over email

Comments are closed.

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