Let’s face it: with the stakes and pace of business these days, getting people to focus on etiquette can seem hopelessly old-fashioned. Wasn’t digital age titan Steve Jobs infamously rude – he of the brutal appraisals and two-word emails? Aren’t businesspeople supposed to project power, not niceness? Hasn’t technology changed the rules so much that they’re not worth following anymore?
It’s an understandable perspective to have, especially for those on the outside looking in. But here’s the thing: it’s just plain wrong. In real life, people don’t do business by screaming obscenities into their phones. That’s a caricature meant to make the whole thing seem more exciting – the TV version. And this is not the correct way to be a successful business. What business is really about, ever-changing technologies notwithstanding, is relationships: cultivating them, maintaining them, and building on them. And the only way to do that is to treat people with respect.
Here are a few ways to make sure you’re doing business right:
1. Faces trump phones.
Probably the biggest and most common lapse in etiquette nowadays is checking your phone when you’re in a face-to-face meeting. It’s hugely disruptive and yet widely practiced, and it’s the kind of thing that could be solved with a simple etiquette lesson. Pay attention to the person you’re with, and leave the messages for later. For some, it’s a near-manic tic that has to be nipped in the bud.
2. Emails represent you – write them with care.
Because we write so many of these, we tend to think it’s okay to cut corners. But soon enough, all the corners are cut, and you end up sounding like a texting tween. Pay attention to how you write your emails: How you say what you say says a lot about you.
3. Reply the way you were contacted.
It’s a simple rule, but a good one: Return a phone call with a phone call, a text with a text, an email with an email. Communication stays smooth, and you’re showing respect for your correspondent by accepting what works best for them.
4. More is more.
Given just how easy it is to shoot an email or send a tweet, people expect more in the way of quantity than they used to. It’s the way to show you value the relationship. There’s obviously such a thing as going overboard, but in a general sense, try to stay on people’s minds – and let them know they’re on yours.
5. Be concise.
For all the emphasis on well-heeled communication, it’s important to remember not to waste people’s time. Long-winded messages are a surefire way to get you de-prioritized. Tell them what they need to know, and no more: they’ll listen more carefully that way – and they’ll keep listening.