Email? IM? or phone?

What is proper business etiquette for a Unified Communications world? Coutesy of Mark Deakin of Microsoft and the Finishing Academy we produce a ‘good manners’ guide to business communications in today’s technologically advanced world

Much has been written, mandated or speculated over the correct etiquette for email usage, particularly as it overtakes the telephone and face to face meetings as the primary form of communication for many. However, with the use of Instant Messaging (IM), web conferencing and text messaging becoming a common addition to these staple methods of communication, questions arise as to when each should be used. Is it a lottery or are there etiquette rules that need to be considered to save us from making a communication faux pas?

Microsoft has teamed up with etiquette experts at The Finishing Academy, which specialises in business and social etiquette and manners, to produce a guide to the correct situation and form for using each. Ultimately, the way one communicates with someone will evolve as the relationship with that person evolves, but there are six key points which should be considered – especially at the start of a business relationship.

Mark Deakin, Unified Communications manager, Microsoft said: “Our research and anecdotal evidence suggests that Instant Messaging is now rife amongst information workers, yet often people are using it poorly. Combined with the widespread misuse of email and an increasing aversion to the phone, it seems there is confusion over when to use which method of communication. The technology is there to help people communicate and collaborate better, and done right it can be a real boon. However, unfortunately there is currently a lack of guidance on how to use the technology effectively.”

Penny Edge at the Finishing Academy said: “Business etiquette and communications etiquette is always evolving as technology or social acceptances change, but many of the same principals shouldn’t be ignored and are as applicable as always in the more connected modern world.”

Many businesses are now providing their staff with communications devices such as Smartphones and Corporate IM, but there is a lack of guidance on how to better manage communications with the help of these devices. Employees need to understand how to make the most of the combination of communications tools now available. The following key points should act as a good guide:

Use IM for short requests

IM is a great tool when you want an immediate response. Likewise a simple question or response is better suited to IM than clogging up someone’s, usually overflowing, inbox. However, it is not the appropriate forum to discuss lengthy or complicated issues so leave IM for the quick question and answer.

Use email sparingly

E-mail should not be used as a default method of communication, sometimes IM or the phone are more appropriate. It is relevant when a discussion needs to take place but the outcome does not need to be resolved immediately. E-mail is also the most suitable forum when a lot of thought needs to go into a particular issue, allowing both parties time to address the facts before responding.

Don’t forget the phone

Telephone conversations offer a personal form of communication, making them ideal for building a rapport with new contacts or dealing with delicate issues. It sounds obvious, but when you need to convey a lot of information immediately or when you need to quickly resolve an issue that will require a lot of discussion, then the phone is your friend.

Work on your online presence

With a wider range of communications options available it is important to let people know how best to contact you. Simply underlining the email address or IM details on your business card lets people know that in most cases that’s the best way to get hold of you. If you are at your desk remember to set your IM status to online, changing it to busy, away or offline as necessary.

Respect who you’re communicating with

The communications options now available allow us to limit face to face meetings, with resulting time and environmental benefits. However, the phone calls and online meetings that replace face to face meetings should be given the same level of attention. You would not check your e-mail or IM other people when in a face to face meeting, and this is equally inappropriate during a phone call or online meeting that warrants your full attention.

Be careful when using humour or sarcasm

The use of humour or sarcasm could easily be misinterpreted or appear inappropriate in a business environment. In order to avoid causing offence think about how well you know the person in question. Do you have a longstanding relationship where humour or sarcasm will be understood and appreciated? If in doubt adopt a more formal tone.

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