In this age of technology, it is easy to forget about something as old-fashioned as manners. We believe, however, that good manners and etiquette are just as important (perhaps even more important) in this age of fast-paced high tech communications. In this article, we have attempted to list the keys to etiquette in this technological age.
Remember What Your Mama Said
When we were all growing up (at least baby boomers like Bill) our parents, especially our mothers, would continuously remind us to “mind our manners.” We were taught to say “yes sir” and “no ma’am” and “please” and “thank you.” There is no reason to abandon these rules in this modern age just because we can send “tweets,” emails and Facebook postings to one another. Please remember to mind your manners in all your communications with others:
- Be polite
- Be considerate
- Be responsible
- Say please and thank you
- Follow the rules of common courtesy to one another
When using electronic communications like email, Twitter and Facebook, there is a tendency to abandon proper rules of etiquette. Because these communications are casual and less formal, one can quickly fall into the trap of becoming too familiar and informal. Remember, however, that communications in the practice of law are business communications. These are not informal discussions with family and friends. Legal communications should not be casual and flippant. Remember the following rule: When you send an email regarding legal matters in which you are involved, you should treat that communication like a business letter. When you send an email inside your firm, you should treat that communication as a memorandum.
The above rules apply to all electronic communications – email, cell phone calls, instant messages, chats and texts and social networking communications as well. For the purposes of etiquette in this article we will focus solely on email etiquette.
Generally Recognized Email Rules
Over time, certain rules of etiquette have developed for communicating via email, especially in the business context. Those rules are as follows:
1. Be concise and to the point. Business emails do not need to “ramble on” like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.
2. Do not overuse “reply to all.” Obviously “reply to all” is a useful tool, especially in emails relating to group projects. However, when you have an email message that is really intended for only one person on a group email, it is inappropriate to use “reply to all.”
3. Avoid sending an email you did not mean to send. Before you hit the “send” button, reread the entire email and make sure it has the right tone and is going to the proper recipients.
4. Avoid sending emails to the wrong addressee. We have all done it. Just after you hit the send button, you realize that you sent an email to someone other than the intended recipient. Consider preparing the text of the email first and adding the addressee last – after you have finished typing the email contents.
5. Beware of the “auto complete” feature. Modern email programs “remember” the email addresses you have used previously. They may “auto complete” an email address once you begin typing the first few letters. As a result, you may be preparing an email to go to “John Doe” but once it recognizes the first “Jo,” the email program will auto complete the address to “Joe Blow.” Make sure auto complete doesn’t cause you to send an email to the wrong person.
6. Use the “re” line. Recipients like to know what the message is about at a glance.
7. Do not send chain letters or spam. This rule is self-evident. Chain letters and spam are annoying.
8. Do not send hoaxes or urban legends. Before you forward that email about some miracle or tragedy, check to make sure it’s not a hoax or an urban legend using websites such as www.snopes.com, better yet, don’t send these types of emails at all.
9. Please no viruses. Keep your virus checking software up-to-date.
10. When you send web pages to others, do not send the page itself, send a link to the page. This practice will cut down on the size of your email, and will normally ensure that the recipient views an accurate version of the page.
11. Do not use all caps. This is the email equivalent of shouting.
12. Do not send large attachments to others without their permission. Better yet, do not send large attachments at all if you can avoid them. Use www.box.net or some other secured site to post the attachment and then send link to recipient.
13. No irony! No sarcasm! It is often difficult to detect by simply reading an email that you are using irony or sarcasm. The use of irony or sarcasm may create a serious misunderstanding.
14. Use spell check. Enough said.
15. Set your system clock. If your system clock is accurate, the recipient can tell when your email was sent. Of course, if you want to convey the impression that you are sending emails at 4 a.m., then adjust your system clock to deceive the recipient. If you want to be honest, however, set your system clock to the accurate time.
16. Avoid a “me too” reply to a mass email. Most of the time such replies are meaningless.
17. Use a signature. Prepare a very short, but informative, signature, using your name, address and phone number and put it at the end of the text you write. A signature is always handy if someone wants to call or send snail mail to you.
We have several pet peeves regarding certain email practices. These are not generally accepted rules, these are just practices we do not like.
1. Overuse of “high priority.” Don’t send an email and mark it high priority when it’s really something that can wait. Otherwise, you will end up like the little boy that cried wolf.
2. Return receipts. Why request a return receipt? The recipient can just click no when asked if he or she wants to send a return receipt. The practice just clogs up everyone’s email box.
3. Automated replies. Use these sparingly and please use the “reply only once” option and send the automated reply only to the sender, and not to everyone in a multiple recipient email.
4. Do not forward personal emails. When someone sends you a private and personal email, he or she intends it to be just that – personal. Avoid the urge to share.
5. Don’t send multiple email exchanges when one telephone call will do. Sometimes it is just better to pick up the phone than exchange a series of emails. We know email is quick and easy, but sometimes using a phone call is more efficient.
6. Don’t use “cutesy signatures and emotions.” Why use these? They are unprofessional.
7. Don’t send religious emails. We know it is hard to believe but not everyone has the same religious beliefs as you do.
8. Don’t send politically charged emails. We know it’s hard to believe but not everyone has the same political views as you do.
9. Please reply to an email when you are asked to do so. It is simple courtesy to respond to an email when someone requests a response.
10. Last minute cancellation emails. Our pet peeve of all time is the use of a cancellation email at ten minutes to twelve, informing someone that a twelve o’clock meeting is cancelled. If you do have to cancel at the last minute, have the guts to call.
11. Don’t be an email “flamer.” This is especially true when there are multiple recipients to an email. Don’t “flame” people through the use of an email. If at all possible, when you have concerns or criticisms with another person, meet with them and discuss them behind closed doors.
12. Pattern backgrounds. Why use these? They only increase the size of emails and they serve no purpose.
13. Don’t use old “re:” lines. Don’t continue to use a “re:” line about something that occurred in 2010, when you are talking about a 2011 problem. Keep your “re:” lines up-to-date.
We have other pet peeves that we could share with you, but we do not want to enhance our reputation as a pair of whiners and complainers. We would love to hear your email pet peeves however. Please share your email pet peeves with us by emailing us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to accumulate a list of these pet peeves and publish them “with attribution” if you wish in a subsequent article.