Your Manners When Using Technology
Susan Coomer Galbreath and Charla S. Long
the increasing use of technology, many people seem to be
losing their sense of common courtesy. In a recent survey
of 150 executives, 63% said that cellphone users are less
polite now than they were three years ago. Following are
tips and reminders for limiting the negative effects of
message. Because an outgoing voicemail message may
be a caller’s first impression of someone, the tone
should be professional and the content should reflect the
person’s current schedule. In the event of an extended
absence, the message should give a caller the option of
connecting with someone else in the organization for immediate
help. Encouraging callers to leave detailed messages helps
prioritize the urgency of returning calls.
messages. Voicemail is not useful if callers hear that
the inbox is full or if their calls are not returned in
a timely manner. Checking voicemail regularly, responding
to messages in a reasonable timeframe, and forwarding messages
meant for others is crucially important.
messages. A forwarded message should include a brief
introduction to give the recipient appropriate context,
background, or instructions on how to handle the call.
messages. Callers should identify themselves, provide
a detailed message about the purpose of the call, and state
contact information slowly and clearly, possibly repeating
important information so the listener can write it down
without needing to listen to the message again.
should treat e-mail as seriously as they would any written
correspondence by using proper grammar, salutations, and
spelling. They should also think carefully before sending
“flaming” e-mail messages, sending e-mail messages
outside the chain of command, or forwarding someone else’s
potentially sensitive or confidential e-mail without their
knowledge or permission.
frequently. As with voicemail, e-mail should be checked
regularly and responded to within a reasonable timeframe.
If appropriate, forward e-mails to others.
message. Most e-mail programs feature an automatic-reply
message option that lets senders know that the addressee
is unable to respond immediately. Providing alternative
contacts in the automatic reply message is helpful.
subject line. This section should provide an adequate
description of the contents of the message so the recipient
can prioritize messages.
selection. User names for business e-mail accounts
should follow common sense and be easy to remember and spell.
Nonwork e-mail addresses should likewise be logical and
professional enough to provide to a colleague.
calls, using either audio or video, require the same respect
and preparation as face-to-face meetings. To avoid confusion
during a conference call with many participants, everyone
should introduce themselves at the start and repeat their
name when speaking.
leave. Leaving a conference call in progress also calls
for a brief announcement, so the remaining participants
are aware and can address any final questions or comments
to that person.
Be cognizant that sensitive or private conversation
may be overheard. Such discussions may be better held in
person or by means of a more traditional telephone call.
cellphones and pagers have three setting options: ring,
vibrate, and off. Each setting is appropriate at certain
times. For professional uses and environments, the ringer
option on a phone or pager should be a sound that is neither
annoying nor loud. The vibrate mode is appropriate during
meetings and in any public setting where a ring is rude
and distracting, and when the device can be discreetly carried
or held. A device placed on a table that vibrates can be
more distracting than an audible ring. During special events
(e.g., funerals, religious services) or important meetings
(e.g., job interviews), a cellphone should be turned off.
Exiting such an event to answer or even check for calls
is distracting, and unless the situation is an emergency,
the opening moments of an event such as a luncheon or a
business meeting, it may be appropriate for the organizer
to announce, “At this time, let’s all check
to see that our phones and pagers are silenced for the duration
of the meeting.” This polite reminder might save someone
an embarrassing moment and will help reduce distractions
during the function.
expecting an important call should inform the organizer
or another colleague and explain the possible need to leave,
then discreetly leave if the expected call arrives. Exiting
the room ensures that the call won’t disrupt—or
be overheard by—others in the room.
Most cellphones and pagers have a voicemail option that
can be activated to let callers know to leave a message.
not strictly an etiquette issue, cellphone use while driving
deserves discussion. According to www.cellular-news.com,
45 countries have formally banned the use of cellphones
by drivers unless they use some form of hands-free kit.
In the United States, New York State, New Jersey, and Washington,
D.C., have such bans, and 10 other states have at least
a partial ban. A 1997 study found that drivers using cellphones
(with or without hands-free accessories) were four times
more likely to have an accident. They concluded that it
is not the actual hands-on use of the cellphone that contributes
to accidents, but the act of an involved conversation that
distracts the driver.
is a trade-off between being accessible to everyone via
cellphone or pager and being bombarded by calls that could
be handled at a more convenient time. Cellphone and pager
owners may want to limit who they give their number to.
data assistants (PDA) are handheld electronic devices that
store various types of files and information, including
an appointment calendar. As with cellphones and pagers,
PDA users should select an alarm sound for appointments
that can be heard but that will not distract or annoy those
nearby. Also, turning off the beeps that occur while the
PDA is in use will reduce the noise level and distractions
during meetings and in public places.
PDAs provide access to e-mail, instant-messaging (IM), working
files, and the Internet. The temptation during meetings
to work on other projects, check and respond to e-mail,
and review scheduled appointments can be strong. Doing so
may mean not paying attention to the work at hand.
Coomer Galbreath, PhD, CPA, is an associate professor
of accounting and Charla S. Long, JD, is
an assistant professor of management, both at Lipscomb University,