PROPER BUSINESS ETIQUETTE FOR USING ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATING DEVICES

By Bob Lang

     Cell phones and pagers, like infants, have no place in a movie theater.

     Cellular phones and pagers also don't belong in church, in a restaurant, at a wedding, a funeral, in a classroom, or at a seminar. And yet, because of the spreading influence of such gadgets, we've all had to contend with rude high-tech interruptions at the most inappropriate moments. Civility and etiquette, it seems, have taken a back seat to an unquenchable desire for constant and immediate information.

     Etiquette, in general, really hasn't been a high priority for at least two generations. Those who grew up during the rebellious late '60s and early '70s through the greedy "me too" '80s are only now realizing the high price of developing poor manners. In business, for example, where customer service is supreme (and everyone is a customer), a sense of proper behavior has become a significant consideration. Think about it: lighting up in a client meeting, blowing your nose at a business lunch, telling the punch line of someone else's joke; all Bozo no-nos. When it comes to professional relationships, a bad first impression will kill you quicker than a train.

     Etiquette takes many forms, from who opens the door for whom (the person, man or woman, who gets there first, or the man if it's a tie) to loud voices in a cubicle office setting (remember, if the cube had a door, sometimes it would be shut). Communication devices, like the aforementioned cellular phones and pagers, are fraught with possibilities for demeanor violations.

     Cellular phones. Cell phones have power buttons for a reason. Users should turn them off if it means receiving a call would intrude on others. If you're about to call someone else's cell phone, first ask yourself if the person really needs to hear from you right this instant. In fact, make the call only when you're certain the receiver is willing to receive your call.

     Paging devices. The same guidelines apply to pagers. In addition, if you use one, wear it. Don't carry it in your purse or inside your briefcase. Always keep it in the 'vibrate' mode. No one ever has to know you're being paged but you. Clip the pager to your belt or otherwise on your body. A vibrating pager loose on a table makes more of a racket than a beeping one does.

     Speaker phones. When you use a conventional office telephone, activate the speaker feature only for conference calls when there's more than one person on your end. Remember that speaker conversations are loud, so close your door so you don't disrupt others. They also allow for eavesdropping, so if you work in a bullpen area, make your call from the phone in a private conference room.

     Voice mail. When properly used, voice mail is a tremendous tool. Recording devices take messages better than any human being because there's no intermediary. To keep messages effective, make sure they're quick and to the point. Know what you're going to say before you call, keep each message to one subject and deliver it without a lot of one-way socializing.

     Most voice mail Systems allow for about 3-minutes of message. That's way too long! Limit yourself to a minute. Chit-chat, extended opens and closes, and rambling wastes the other person's time. However, always slow down when you deliver your phone number. In fact, offer it at the beginning when you identify yourself then repeat it at the end.

     Your outgoing greeting should be equally concise. We all know how voice mail and personal answering devices work, so eliminate the drawn-out apology for being away from your desk or on another call and the assurance that the call is very important to you.

     Fax machines. A fax is a proper method for delivering business correspondence. However, you should never send a private message to an office via fax. It's like a postcard; everyone will have a chance to read it. Sending jokes is also a bad idea. Someone is guaranteed to be offended.

     Even though the quality of faxes is vastly improved, there could still be problems associated with originals on colored paper. Photocopy it, and fax the white paper copy. Stay away from whiteout. The result can appear as a blotch on the other end. And it's always a good idea to notify the recipient by phone or voice mail that a fax has been sent

     Office Email. Like faxes, e-mail is also quite public. The fact that we use a PC to generate e-mail gives us the false sense that our correspondence is personal. Moreover, deleted e-mail can often be retrieved from backup systems. So never transmit an e-mail message you wouldn't want the whole staff to read.

     Make sure the subject line is short and relevant. Treat it the same way you would the subject line of a written memo. Include the purpose and the topic, not just the topic itself As examples, "TQM" becomes 'Recommendations for implementing TQM." And "Office picnic" becomes 'Rain date for office picnic." Finally, if the reader has to scroll down, your e-mail's too long.

     'Etiquette," according to Emily Post, "is a code of behavior based on consideration and thoughtfulness." When Ms. Post expressed that in 1922, she surely wasn't wearing a pager or carrying a cellular phone. But customer service wasn't a new concept even then.

     Then again, it's always possible she might merely have been inspired by some screaming child in the row behind her as she was trying to enjoy the latest Valentino film.

     Bob Lang is training manager with Pinnacle Bay Resource Group, Inc. in Sacramento, California.

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