Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Did You Say?

“Netiquette” is defined as “the do’s and don’ts of online communication.” Simply put, it’s not being a toot when you email someone. I have recently been exposed to two violations of netiquette. Neither were directly aimed at me, but it got me to thinking about this practice and the times I’ve surely made an electronic faux pas myself.

The first instance happened over the weekend in a group email between several mothers from school. One felt slighted by another and sent an email to that fact. The alleged offender then shot back a response and copied several others. It was clearly a defensive move.

Last week, I sent an email to several colleagues on behalf of my boss. Waiting for me this morning was a somewhat curt reply from one recipient, expressing his dissatisfaction both with the content of the message and that my boss had chosen to convey it via email. Ironic, I realize. You’re complaining – via email – about having received a message by, well, email? OK…

Since I did not have the proverbial dog in either of these fights, I was purely an innocent bystander. From the comfort and safety of my armchair, I was able to clearly see where the various players took a misstep and what they should have done instead. Easy for me to say, right?

My mother had good advice often and great advice on a couple of occasions. One of her gems was simple:  “don’t put into writing what you wouldn’t say to someone or what you wouldn’t want someone to see.” Plain and simple. Especially with email, once it’s been uttered, it’s out there and without the benefit of facial expressions, vocal intonations, or an instant filter provided by the heart and mind. Too much can be read between those electronic lines.

Best Practices of Email Etiquette, from an article on

1.      Decide if you should send the email. Ask yourself: Why am I sending the email, and can I better achieve my goal in person or on the phone?

2.      Decide who should receive the email. Only send emails to those who should get them. Before adding any name to the "cc" list, ask yourself: Does this person really need to read this email?

3.      Consider the tone of the email. People cannot detect subtleties in an email, so avoid sarcasm and most humor. SENDING A MESSAGE IN ALL UPPERCASE LETTERS is perceived as shouting. Avoid long, rambling messages (they sound argumentative or whiny) and very brief messages (like “No”), which are seen as cold and unfriendly. Read the email out loud to determine if you sound condescending or angry.

4.      Do not fight with emails. Resolve conflicts that arise in emails in person. Do not respond to an angry or insulting email message immediately. Instead, compose a reply, save it for 24 hours, and then reread it. If it still reflects the way you feel, send it. Never send important e-mail messages when you are tired or angry.

5.      Compose every e-mail message as if it will be on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. You can never retrieve a sent message. Sending an email message saying you are retracting an earlier e-mail message will not repair any damage done by the first email. Remember, some issues are not suited for email.