November 19, 2012
Online Civility in Business

A true smile is a universal form of communication that instantly conveys a positive emotion. Generally, it is also contagious and results in a returned smile. The easiest way to convey civility in business could be in a small smile and a simple salutation. However, increasingly business communications are becoming less about face-to-face dialogue and more about an online presence. In a world where people talk less and write more, sometimes civility has to be conveyed through only written communication.

Imprecise language can result in misinterpretation and irritation in a format that is harder to fix than verbal miscommunication. The offending person cannot see the immediate reaction, and therefore, cannot attempt to fix the problem before the relationship is broken. Diane Howard, PhD advises people on all forms of communication and provides some guidelines she feels are essential for work emails:

Don’t blurt a message impulsively.

    1. Use appropriate etiquette.
    2. Don’t say anything electronically that which would not be said face-to- face.
    3. Don’t vent emotions.
    4. Be careful of what might be offensive to other cultures.
    5. Be careful of the tone of messages.
      (a) Don’t be so short, concise, or direct that messages sound brusque or rude.
      (b) Use adjectives or adverbs to clarify tone.
      (c) Avoid sarcasm, which could be misinterpreted…
    6. Refrain from pre-mature judging or attacking.

Improper communications in business could cost a person their livelihood. While tone and content are extremely important, so are grammar and spelling.

Old sitcoms demonstrate proper business etiquette from the days of yore. Men in suits throw dinner parties for bosses, clients, and their respective wives. The homemaker wife serves dinner, dressed to the nines, with a broad grin on her face and pearls dotting her earlobes and neck. Her perfectly cooked three-course dinner is devoured. Then, the men talk shop while the women chat in another room. This stereotypical affair demonstrated the pinnacle of business civility fifty years ago. In the end, the smiles plastered on the faces of all attendees, no matter how fake, have yet to be matched in the virtual world. Emoticons just do not carry the same clout and in professional writing should probably be omitted anyway 🙂

This post was written by Jenny Kalvaitis, a graduate intern with Indiana Humanities. Jenny is a Public History Master’s student at IUPUI.

In September, October and November, Indiana Humanities is exploring the topic of “civility,” as part of its Spirit of Competition theme.

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