Missed manners: Mind your manners when communicating in a business setting --
even if it’s not face to face

Voice mail is full, the inbox is stuffed with unread e-mails and the pager is erupting in beeps that are sounding more like gleeful mocking with each day...

Sounds like it’s time for a lesson in the graces of techno-etiquette.

“Technology is here to stay,” said Gloria Auth, founder and president of Protocol Plus, an Edmond firm that coaches business people in etiquette. “It can make our lives easier. But without any rules, it can make our lives miserable.”

People know what to do in person to connect with people, but throw a little technology into the mix, and even the most computer savvy can land in manners mayhem.

In the absence of rules, however, Auth said common courtesy and common sense should take over.

“You have to remember you’re representing yourself and your company,” she said. “You can burn a lot of bridges and create ill will, but common courtesy creates good will.”

Auth offered a few tips on using technology politely and to everyone’s advantage.

Auth suggests returning telephone calls within 24 hours, if at all possible.

“Get back as soon as you can,” she said.

When you are out of town, Auth said to make sure the person answering your phone knows that you are unavailable and when you will return.

This information should also be stated on your voice mail greeting. Messages should be checked at least once a day.

Prompt treatment of calls does not mean answering the telephone’s every beck and call, however.

“Never pick up the phone when you are with a client. And ask people before putting them on hold,” she said.

Cell phones
“Turn them off!” Auth said. “They’re wonderful, but we don’t need to be on call 24 hours a day. No one is that indispensable.”

She said cell phones have no place in theaters, church, meetings or in classrooms. If an emergency call is expected, put the phone on vibrate and sit somewhere where your departure to take a call will create the least disruption. The same rules apply to pagers.

Auth also suggests telling the person you called that you are using a cell phone in case the call is dropped.

The key, she said, to proper cell phone use is discretion.

“People tend to talk louder on cell phones. Be aware and respect the peace and privacy of others,” she said.

Speaker phones Auth said the calling party should always tell people when they are on a speaker phone, who else is present and why the speaker is being used.

“If you think you’re on a speaker phone, it’s alright to ask, ‘Am I on a speaker phone?’ and you can ask to be taken off,” she said. She believes the speaker should only be used for conference calls.

Voice mail
Auth said to insure a call is returned, always leave a name and a number with the best time to return the call. This avoids phone tag.

She reminds callers to let the receiver know why you are calling, so they can be prepared when returning the call and a question can be answered quickly.

She said to speak slowly and clearly, breaking up numbers and spelling names. Remember to include area codes and keep the message to 30 seconds.

“E-mail is defining our lives,” said Auth. “It interrupts you. When you hear that beep, it can take you twice as long to get something done.”

Again, there are no “hard and fast rules” for returning e-mail.

“It depends on the nature of your business,” she said.

She suggested checking e-mail in the morning, at noontime and before you leave in the evening.

Tips for sending e-mail include being specific in the subject line. If the receiver understands the content, he or she is more likely to open the message.

Auth suggests keeping e-mails brief and organized.

“It’s not a dissertation,” she said.

Auth said cover sheets which include the recipient’s name, sender’s name, phone number and number of pages to follow should always be used. Auth suggests using large, legible type and not sending faxes in excess of 10 pages without first asking permission.

“All technology is a point of contact for your business,” Auth said. “Everything should be professionally done and up to snuff,” she said.

Copyright © 2004 Protocol Plus

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