Remember Your Manners When Using Technology

By Susan Coomer Galbreath and Charla S. Long

E-mail Story
Print Story
With 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 communication technology.


Outgoing 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.

Incoming 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.

Forwarding messages. A forwarded message should include a brief introduction to give the recipient appropriate context, background, or instructions on how to handle the call.

Leaving 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.


People 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.

Check frequently. As with voicemail, e-mail should be checked regularly and responded to within a reasonable timeframe. If appropriate, forward e-mails to others.

Extended-absence 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.

The subject line. This section should provide an adequate description of the contents of the message so the recipient can prioritize messages.

User-name 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.


Conference 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.

Taking 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.

Privacy. 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

Most 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, it’s rude.

During 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.

Anyone 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.

Although not strictly an etiquette issue, cellphone use while driving deserves discussion. According to, 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.

There 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.

Personal Data Assistants

Personal 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.

Many 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.

Susan 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, Nashville, Tenn.





















The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

©2009 The New York State Society of CPAs. Legal Notices