By Peter Post, Director, The Emily Post Institute
It’s happened over and over again:
Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is great. Computers and cell phones make it possible to do more with less, to work from anywhere, to be available 24/7. As a result, technology allows us to be more productive and, potentially at least, more profitable.
The dark side of technology is the electronic wall that has grown brick by brick over the last 20 years. As more and more technical opportunities arise that allow workers to communicate without being “face to face,” people are learning less and less about how to communicate effectively. One of the most often requested Emily Post Institute business etiquette seminar topics is e-mail communication. The frustration managers and CEOs feel about the abuse of e-mails, and, yes, even texting and IMing, is palpable.
People write things in electronic messages they would never say in person. There is no question that people use e-mail to avoid having a difficult conversation, such as with a colleague who has body odor or to fire an employee. It feels “safer” to be quasi-anonymous, to deal with the problem, not the person, and to avoid the consequences of the message. To the recipient, the bigger message is: “He didn’t have the guts to say it to my face.” And the word gets out: Here’s a company that cares so little for its employees that it doesn’t have the courtesy to handle important, private matters in person.
Poor e-mail communications with clients, prospects, or suppliers can cost your company business. You might send an e-mail that you think is neutral in tone, but the recipient may think your words harsh, rude, or negative. Without the visual and auditory clues that are present in a face-to-face conversation, the recipient just reads the words. If you don’t think this is true, consider how many times you’ve added an emoticon to an e-mail to signal “this is a friendly message.”
Using e-mail as the main means of communicating with colleagues affects both productivity and creativity. E-mail, texts, or IMs are great for communicating factual information. “What were the sales figures for last quarter?” But when it becomes a long, convoluted, back-and-forth, “that’s not what I meant” stream, it leaves the participants frustrated and the work product on hold.
Two reasons stand out for the degradation in face-to-face communication skills.
People hide behind the electronic brick wall to do their communicating especially when the situation is a difficult one and they really don’t want to face the person directly.
Take action to dismantle the electronic brick wall.
If you have business etiquette questions you’d like Peter Post to answer either in an upcoming issue of Trainingmagazine or in an online article, please e-mail them to Trainingmagazine Editor-in-Chief Lorri Freifeld at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Post is a director of The Emily Post Institute (http://www.emilypost.com/seminars), great-grandson of Emily Post, and co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.”