Electronic Etiquette – 4 things to remember

“Be nice online” – that’s the message that comes through loud and clear in the list on Seth Godin’s blog (posted on Squidoo by Megan).

Only 10 years ago the idea that so much of our communication would be conducted without the benefit of voice or visual. We pick up, and decode, an enormous amount of contextual information from non-verbal cues. It pays to remember that without those subtle bits of extra information, we could get the message badly wrong.

So, here are a few more thoughts on the etiquette of communication in the electronic age:

If you’re sending a message, remember:

  • Nobody can tell that you’re juggling 3 telephones, an incoming delivery and fielding questions from team members – at the same time as you try to respond to that critically urgent email.
      • possible solution: either take time out to collect your thoughts in a quiet place before you respond to the email, or at the very least, bear in mind that the recipient can’t see that your day is chaotic when they read it.


  • The delete button is only one key-stroke away. If you’re discourteous, dismissive or downright rude – your email may hit the trash with just one click!
      • If you wouldn’t say it to someone in person. Don’t put it in your email

  • How much information is too much? In-person communication allows you to read whether someone ‘gets it’ by their subtle signs – a slight nod, or a befuddled expression. Without these signs, the question of whether there are gaps in your message isn’t quite as easy to answer.
      • Its a fine balance to get right – too much information and it just doesn’t get read. Too little and the reader is left wondering how you got from A to X. No matter how much detail you decide to include, use very clear layout. Good old-fashioned bullet points work. And ask the reader to come back to you if they not sure about anything.

  • They say couples should never go to sleep angry with each other.
    Perhaps this rule should be adapted for the 21st century: Never send an
    email in anger. There’s a very good chance you’ll regret it.

      • I’ve learned the hard way that whenever there’s a mail to write on a touchy subject, the best policy is to write it, store it in the draft folder overnight, and re-read it in the morning before you send it. It really does pay to do this.

If you’re receiving the message:

  • Make allowance for the fact that the writer may have been interrupted, distracted or otherwise having a challenging day. If they are a bit abrupt, remember that not everyone has the gift of flowing prose. That may just be their style, or they may have responded in a rush.

  • If you receive a really offensively rude communication, sometimes the best policy is to simply delete it and then ignore it. And move on.

  • If you receive incomplete or unclear information in an email, first re-read it to make sure you’ve not just been skim-reading. Then, if you’re still not certain, ask for clarification on specific points. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for the writer to give you concise, precise information to fill in the gaps.

  • If you receive an angry mail – don’t respond immediately. Anger is sometimes a response to feeling out of control or insecure. If you can work out the trigger, you may be able to send a re-assuring response to de-stress the situation. Even if this isn’t the case, a considered response will at least be less inflammatory.

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