On the eve of the new millennium I read with my students a detailed article about the disadvantages of office email. At that time it was quite a new tool and was sometimes misused. The writer of the article argued that although office email was a boon to the work place, it had to be handed carefully as it was the cause for so many unnecessary misunderstandings.
As a member of several mailing lists, and Facebook and WhattsApp groups, I am always surprised how often misunderstandings become conflicts. Furthermore, the same people who are, in real life, civilized members of the community become volatile in their communication on the net.
Although electronic communication has been with us for quite a while, it is surprising to find out that not many people practice netiquette: the rules of etiquette that apply when communicating over computer networks, especially the Internet.
The virtual mentor Michael Hyatt compiled a clear and simple list of to-do and not-to-do rules for electronic communication. Most of those rules are well known. However, a quick refresher etiquette review could prove helpful.
Here is my rendition to Hyatt’s Email Etiquette 101
— Keep messages brief and exact, state your most important point first and clarify the purpose of your message.
— A brief mail, to limited number of recipients, increases your chance of getting a response
— Limit your mail to a single message; if you need to discuss another matter write another mail
— Write the topic of the mail clearly in the subject line
— Do not respond right away. While instant message requires an instant response, it is quite enough to respond to an email within a day.
— Since email doesn’t allow the benefit of non-verbal cues, like a smile, or a kind look, your words become your tone, so choose them carefully. Do not use sarcasm and avoid jokes. If, without meaning to, you offended someone apologize right away.
— While email is a great tool for positive responses and encouragement, it is a poor choice for criticism. For that face to face interaction works best.
— Don’t reply in anger. Wait a day or two and then check your mail and carefully consider what to do next.
— Don’t send mails containing offensive remarks or derogatory adjectives, use proper language which could be quoted.
— Avoid reply-all unless it is necessary and don’t use all CAPS and excessive punctuation in order to make a point. In the digital world they are the equivalent to shouting.
— Check your spelling, especially if you are using automatic spelling, and reread your mail before you push the send button.
It has been almost twenty years since my students and I read the email article, and it seems that not much has changed. We use email for most of our needs but still senders and recipients have not learnt to take the time to examine the text carefully, and as a result misunderstandings happen all the time.
It’s not always possible to remember to take the time and read or write carefully. It happened to me that, in a rush, while writing in Hebrew on my smartphone, I replaced Ayin for Youd, and referred to my female friend as “Barren” Rachel instead of “Dear.” Rachel. But, in normal times, whenever possible, applying netiquette could make personal communication over the internet a much more positive experience.