Digital manners – and how to use them
Bam. Bam, go the emails with attachments.
Bam. Bam, go the invoices.
Your idea of a water cooler conversation is you, in your undies, telling the dog about your next breakthrough idea. The dog looks at you adoringly, the way dogs do. He hasn’t noticed today’s clothing choice. Well, it’s not so much a choice as an unchoice – you’ve run out of laundered clothes.
Your only other interaction for the day has been with the dude from the apartment upstairs who caught up with you in the foyer while you were checking your mail (seriously, is he watching for you?). He corrects your method of inserting the key in your mailbox, then tells you again how he once nearly met Marilyn Monroe.
You make a mental note – you don’t ever want to be that dude.
But what if you’re heading there? What if your work/lifestyle choice is going to affect your people skills?
Truth be told, you’re not exactly a love child of Dale Carnegie and have been described as ‘brash’, ‘straightforward’ and ‘rude’ – even on your best days. You already often forget to say nice things about being well at the beginning of emails. Or nice things about good weekends at the end.
What if congeniality is a muscle you have to train?
And what if your solitude is leaving the muscle as slack and limp as a really poor sexual innuendo?
Well, don’t worry. This short guide to etiquette for people who do digital work at home in their undies should help get you looking like the Arnold Schwarzenegger of freelancers.
Use manners words
I know. This one is so simple and obvious, but often forgotten. But using words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can change the entire tone of your written communication. Plus, manners words can create the impression that you’re a thoughtful and considerate person.
Thank you notes can also be useful in impression management. Make sure that the notes are written about a specific episode of help or assistance, and express in a detailed way what the outcome of that help has been.
Compare for instance this note:
Thank you for your assistance with the brochure.
With this one:
Thanks so much with your help on editing the brochure. Your accuracy and attention to detail helped significantly in creating a clear, concise and much-needed educational resource.
The second example is more personal and thoughtful. And it’s useful to the person you’ve sent it to because they can use it as a testimonial for their profiles and CVs.
Be precise and clear
I know lots has been happening with you that you really want to share with someone other than the dog. But. Try to keep each email to just one main point.
Use simple language.
And short sentences.
A good rule of thumb is to include your most important point in the first few sentences. You have to assume that the recipient is going to be quickly scrolling through the message to get your main point. Let them know what that is up front.
Use Emoji sparingly
Emoji can be powerful tools for communicating empathy and humanness. Keep in mind though, they can also be fraught. Sending someone a winky face, for instance, or a laughing face at something that was not intended by the message-maker as funny, can have devastating consequences for professional relationships. So use with discretion.
Let people know where you’re at
Your Inbox might be a tad overcrowded by requests. But ignoring them will simply lead to people on the other end making more requests (“see my last email”, “further to my last email”, “I did not receive a response to my last email”…and so on). If you can’t get to a request immediately, make a template email that says:
Thanks for your request to….
I can’t get to that right now because I am on deadline for a project. But I will […] by […]
Use the template each time and simply fill in the blanks with specifics.
“Because” is your most powerful ally
Communication in face-to-face interactions is sprawling, decadent and uneconomical. That means you will have frequent opportunities to give explanations about why certain decisions you’ve made certain choices on a project.
However, digital communication, even on a video call platform, contains an inherent demand for sparseness (don’t believe me? Test it some time). Which means you may miss out on the powerful benefits to your communication of the word ‘because’.
A foundational study by a group of Harvard researchers revealed that people are more likely to comply with a request simply because a reason is given. And thing is, it doesn’t matter if the reason is lame and redundant. For instance, “Can I use the copier machine because I need to make copies?”*
In digital communication, ‘because’ has the power to increase compliance, and it also adds clarity and avoids confusion.
Much workplace dissatisfaction is produced by poor communication. And this has the potential for exacerbation if your written communication is not scaffolded by good manners. Your language choices and communication style create impressions, and sometimes unintentional or false ones. Make a few minor adjustments and watch the flavour of your communication improve.
* Here’s the research citation:
Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.