Can you hear me now?

Filed under: News |

A former boss of mine once reprimanded me at a department head meeting for chewing on a toothpick while he was talking. He would probably roll over in his grave today if he knew that meetings and seminars were constantly being interrupted with the sounds of ringing cell phones.

I can visualize the creased brows, the pursed lips, the piercing eyes and the red glow that would slowly creep up his neck if he realized someone in his audience was surfing the Internet.

The advent of high technology has given new meaning to instant gratification.

While cell phones, laptops, palm pilots and e-mail have catapulted the information age to new heights, the same devices have encouraged rude behaviors among humans.

Some might argue that it’s not the fault of little gadgets, but the demise of a common respect for one’s peers

It doesn’t seem to matter who is at the podium, either. At a Colorado Springs September luncheon seminar featuring Lt. Gov. Jane Norton more than one obnoxious cell phone tune resonated throughout the room as Norton discussed important issues facing Colorado.

With some of the creative jingles available on cell phones, the offenders might as well have turned on a boom box.

The “can you hear me now” era has bottomed out when it comes to manners.

Tracy Sanders is a director for the Robert Half Technology Springs division. “You are not only rude to the speaker, you are rude to the people around you when you allow your cell phone to ring in a meeting or at a seminar,” Sanders said. “We are in business meetings to get educated and learn something – we are there for a reason.”

A study conducted by Robert Half Technology showed that 67 percent of the chief information officers polled agreed that breaches of technology etiquette are common in today’s work force. More than half, from 65 percent to 88 percent, of the chief information officers identified various technology no-no’s such as leaving cell phone ringers on, sending instant messages, sending and replying to e-mails, and working on computers during meetings as inappropriate behavior.

“We all want to feel as though we are important and our time is not being wasted or taken for granted,” Sanders said. She cited a couple of instances when interviewees answered their cell phones during a job interview.

It’s my guess those folks could be contributing to the unemployment stats for a long time.

“Everyone is multi-tasking so much today that there is no personal concern for conversation,” Sanders said. “But people still need to be validated. When you are with someone, ask permission to take a phone call – it’s common courtesy.”

What about e-mail etiquette? My sister told me last summer that she always double checks her grammar and spelling when she sends me an e-mail.

“I constantly think you are editing every e-mail that I send you,” she said. True enough, sister. I cringe when I see mistakes and misconstrued English even if the words are written on post-it notes. The nuns drilled proper English and business writing techniques into me for at least six of the 12 years I spent in Catholic schools. And news editors have intensified my quest for written perfection.

And e-mail shorthand drives me up the wall. I won an award in my high school shorthand class, and I don’t remember configurations like BTY (by the way) or IMO (in my opinion).

Sanders concurred. “I am not sure who coined the phrase ‘high-tech shorthand,'” she said. “But using acronyms in place of entire phrases is confusing. E-mail messages should fit all audiences and be as clear and effective as possible. I also think it’s unacceptable when people don’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s in their e-mail messages.”

Sanders said one of the problems with e-mail messaging is the lack of emotional communication. “You don’t hear inflection in anyone’s voice, and you don’t always get a true meaning of the conversation,” she said. “In some instances, a phone call or a face-to-face conversation is much better. And never use e-mail when you are addressing a negative issue.”

Doug Washington agrees. Washington doubles as a vice-president for Versent, a Kansas-based company that provides computer support to small and medium size businesses, and as a monthly column writer for the “Daily Record,” a Kansas City business journal. In his September column, Washington laid out the ground rules for e-mail etiquette.

Washington said witnessing return e-mails where the individual uses “reply to all” sparked the e-mail etiquette column. “When people reply to all, they are allowing everyone else access to all of the e-mail addresses,” Washington said. “It’s an invitation for someone to take an e-mail address and put it into spam.”

He also lamented the acronyms. “Most people don’t care about code words,” Washington said. “Talk to your audience in language they understand.”

Washington outlined a number of e-mail guidelines that reflect a professional image:

* Read the e-mail message before sending it. Check the clarity, spelling, grammar and punctuation.

* Leave fancy fonts, colors and smiley faces out of business e-mails.

* Use short, easy-to-read paragraphs, avoid long sentences and mark specific points.

* Remember that various formats (bold, italics, indents) may appear differently to the recipient.

* Avoid sarcasm and using all capital letters. Use gender-neutral language.

* If you are concerned the recipient may misunderstand the message, make a phone call.

* Manage e-mail efficiently. Respond in one day to e-mails or at least send a confirmation that you have received it and will get back to the person – follow up.

Washington said the constant checking of e-mail is a “productivity killer.” Check it at set times throughout the day.

* Answer questions thoroughly, which means reading the e-mail thoroughly.

* Keep the original message when replying.

* Do not attach unnecessary files; do not forward chain letters.

* Do not overuse high-priority notations in the subject line. Washington said it’s kind of like crying wolf too many times.

* Use caution when replying to all. Don’t do it unless it’s necessary that each individual receives the reply.

* When e-mailing a large group, use the BCC (blind copy) field. The recipients do not have access to everyone’s e-mail address.

* Do not discuss confidential information or offensive topics via e-mail.

* Do not reply to spam or try to unsubscribe. Delete the e-mail or use spam-removing software.

* Add an e-mail signature and provide contact information at the end of each message.

* Use an e-mail disclaimer to protect your company from liabilities, and enter it at the end of the message.

* Establish an e-mail policy within your company which spells out inappropriate subject matter.

In the end, it’s about using common sense and adhering to common courtesies whether it’s cell phone or e-mail etiquette.

Somehow we survived the 20th century with wired technology, ground mail and phone conversations. I think we’ll survive in the 21st century if we mute our phones for an hour-long meeting.

And, if you e-mail me about any of the above, please remember to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.