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With so many new media competing to be our choice to communicate with each other, it can be hard to keep track of the proper way to use each vehicle. Emailing etiquette, for example, has its own business etiquette compared to texting or instant messaging etiquette.
To help you keep everything straight, review these tips on the best way to communicate using each option:
Be conscious of tone. Many an emailer has regretted sending a business message that conveyed too much emotion. It can be easy to misinterpret tone in written communications, particularly emails, as it’s challenging to accurately convey a neutral tone. Avoid use of all capital letters since the recipient can interpret that as yelling, and go easy on the exclamation points. Don’t use multiple punctuation marks (such as ??) since those too can suggest a demanding tone.
Avoid emoticons and slang. Many email programs come equipped with a wide range of happy face images and other emoticons to enhance your personal communications, but these have no place in business correspondence. Think of email as an extension of your professional presence—if you wouldn’t use slang or language shortcuts like “2u” in a formal business letter, then don’t use it in a business email.
Be careful when you reply. Sometimes in haste when composing an email, we can accidently press the wrong key. Slow down when preparing to reply to a sender’s email, since a mistaken click at this juncture can mean “replying all” to a message that you meant to send to only one person, or sending a message to the wrong recipient—errors that can be costly on many levels in business. Verify who is in the “To:” line before clicking “Send.”
Wait for an invite. Unlike with email interactions, you should never assume that there’s an open invitation to send unexpected text messages to colleagues or clients. Texting is a more personal way to connect with people, and it’s generally reserved for one’s inner circle: family, personal friends, and perhaps select business associates. Even if you know your boss’s or coworker’s cell phone number, you should always request permission to text any of your work-related contacts before doing so.
Mind the clock. If you do have a green light to text specific work associates, remember that the timing of texting does not match email’s relative open-endedness. With email, though it’s best to send messages only during regular business hours, you have a little more latitude to work on your own schedule since the recipient generally won’t be expected to see and respond to your message after hours. With texting, since your words will be sent directly to the recipient’s smartphone, you might wake someone up unintentionally with a late-night text if they forgot to silence their phone. Avoid sending texts after standard business hours unless you’ve been asked to do so.
Stay professional. Texting has its own alternate language that consists of abbreviations and acronyms to make it easier to communicate briefly on a small keyboard. That said, you should keep business communications professional and reserve texting lingo for friends and family. Though it takes a little longer, spell out words in full like “you” rather than using the abbreviation “u” so that your colleagues take you seriously.
Check in before interrupting. Since IM is one of the quickest ways to reach someone directly at their desk, it’s good form to touch base with a short greeting when sending an initial instant message. Start out with a simple “Hi—is this a good time to connect?” before launching into a longer message about what you need. This will confirm whether the recipient is available to respond in detail or not.
Keep it short. When used as a tool for office communication, IM is designed for quick-hit information exchange that can keep you moving ahead with your work rather than stopping for a longer face-to-face or phone chat. Limit your IM use to questions that someone can respond to quickly. If a longer response is required, choose a different tool or get up and ask your question in person.
Avoid bad news. Whether you’re using IM, text, or email, it’s best not to share negative information. If you have bad news to share with someone, while it may feel easier to type a quick instant message, it’s disrespectful of your colleague to do so. If you need to have an important conversation, schedule time to talk in person ideally, or by phone if your coworker is in a different location.
No matter which tool you’re using, it’s polite to end your conversation with a brief closing comment like “Thanks for your help!” so that the other person knows you’re signing off. By following these simple etiquette pointers, you’ll help foster your business relationships, which can make a meaningful difference in your career.