Online Communication Etiquettes Still Matter

As a kid, I grew in a family of teachers; dad taught math while mom taught English. Calculus, trigonometry, essay writing, and learning “big” English vocabularies were part of our daily family dinner discussions. My mama (I call her Iya Tolu) had a unique parenting style forged from a blend of British (middle-class) life style (a neo-colonial upbringing she had), Yoruba culture, and Christian spirituality. From dining, to dressing, to conversations, mama emphasized the importance of good manners in public and private life. She’s a “no nonsense” disciplinarian when it comes to sticking with these etiquettes. For example, I found wearing suit and tie in a 30-degree Celsius weather on Sundays ridiculous but mama won’t budge! She won’t even tolerate rolling up my sleeves, no matter how hot the weather was. While I appreciated the values she taught, I was rebellious against these “British” etiquettes because they did not correlate with the realities of our low-income (“ajepako”) family life!

Twenty years later, I have come to appreciate her teachings on etiquettes. Her values on conversational discipline has been of immense value to me, especially in the present-day technology-driven workplace where electronic communication (e.g. emails, phone, social media, etc) has become the main stay. From Sony’s data breach, to Hillary Clinton’s email scandals that cost her the 2016 presidential elections, we see how carelessness in manners and modes of communication is destroying the careers and legacies of many. Discipline and mastery of online conversational etiquettes and discipline have now become essential skill sets for professional success. I believe these etiquettes should be taught to both adults and kids (especially the i-generation kids that started life with tablets and apps even before walking!). While no one is immune to hacking and data breaches and technology malfunctions these days (regardless of how secure your systems are), here are few tips that I am finding useful as I navigate the increasingly technology-driven work place.

#1.    Realize that everything you put online is there forever

Always remember that deleted information are not necessarily deleted (they can still be recovered!). Avoid unprofessional or career damaging communications (e.g. gossips, backbiting, slogans, expletives) that may put you in trouble. This also applies to social media. Be quick to hear and slow to speak/comment/share.

#2.   Typos and poorly-worded messages don’t look good on you

Typos in professional correspondences (emails) sometimes create bad but lasting impressions about you. I am very guilty of this as well. Sometimes I rush to respond to emails/texts only to realize few minutes later that there are grammatical errors or poor worded sentences. Spend time to proof-read your messages before sending. In urgent situations, pick up the phone and call or add a disclaimer that reads “Excuse typos….email sent from a hand-held device (or sent in hurry)” to let your reader understand your situation. Poorly worded messages are prone to be misconstrued and can create timeline bottlenecks for time-sensitive projects.  

#3.   Email documentation

Use your email to document important information and communications such as professional decisions, task assignments from superiors, quotations from clients, business agreements and contracts, can be curated via email. Such documentations might serve as witness for future references. Even for oral communications, make sure you create an email trail for future references.

#4.   Always have a backup plan for the rainy day

Don’t forget to regularly back up your emails and electronic documentations to avoid losing crucial information to data breaches and computer malfunctions/failures. I once wasted about three weeks because I failed to back up my information before a massive data breach in an organization I worked for. Consider online data storage platforms (e.g. dropbox, sync, cloud servers, etc) for backing up your files. External storage drives (USBs) and paper documentations/files might be useful alternatives as well.

#5.   Don’t mix business with personal(pleasure)

Avoid using professional emails for personal communications and vice versa. Personal Correspondences (e.g., utility bills, groceries/shopping coupons, correspondence with spouse, etc) are not meant for official emails/computers/phones. Your professional email is, technically, the property of your employer. You lose such information the day you leave the organization. On the other hand, using official emails for personal stuffs creates real or perceived conflicts of interest that might put your reputation in tatters. For example, Hilary Clinton’s email scandal in the 2016 US presidential elections created such perceived conflict of interes which, among other things, contributed to her loss

I am a firm believer in technology and its benefits to mankind. I first learned about how to operate desktop computers at 19, opened my first email (yahoo) at 20, and had my first phone at 23. Today, an average 8-year old probably started learning ABC on iphone/android phone at 18 months, had a tablet at 6 years, and will have a cell phone before turning 10! So, technology has made our world much better! However, advancements in technological innovation is continuously blurring the boundaries between our professional and personal lives. As professionals, we all need to evolve (and be intentional) by (in) developing and mastering important etiquettes/principles that reflects our values and identity while giving us a competitive edge in the work place. My mama’s values and etiquettes about communication (I won’t list them here) which she taught before I ever learned about the internet continues to shape my approach to electronic communication even to this day. The five tips listed above is not an exhaustive list for effective email communication but they are few helpful tips that I have found useful.

I am sure there are other tips about email/online communication that has worked for you but not on this list, kindly share them below and let’s get the discussion going. God bless you.