How we interact and communicate in business has changed radically in recent times. We have transitioned to a digital way of working where Zoom, Teams, WebEx, are universally used as the way to connect. Yet we have been interacting face to face for eons. Our brains need to learn and optimise the appropriate behaviours and approaches in maximising each and every interaction online.
The 2020s continues to invent new words and terms to make sense of the new world we live in. One such term is netiquette. Netiquette has had its etymological evolution from the word etiquette. Whilst etiquette is focused on the conduct and behaviour observed in social life, netiquette refers to this aspect of governance from the perspective of the Internet.
I have learned and experienced many things in my time as a technology executive and as a Toastmaster. As an executive, I have the latest tools and technologies at my fingertips (e.g. “The What”). Yet, as a Toastmaster, I have built foundations of communication, public speaking and leadership (i.e. “The Why and How”). My aim is to share some of the key tips, tricks and lessons on netiquette through each lens.
Although Myriam Webster classifies netiquette as a noun, my key take-away in this article is to consider netiquette as a verb instead. With that in mind, the following areas are the key aspects of netiquette that you should action accordingly.
Everyone has an opinion on netiquette therefore it is hard to agree on a standard set of rules. My recommendation is to leverage the following 10 netiquette general rules as a starting point. They blur the lines between normal meeting etiquette/hygiene and what we now experience online:
DiSC is one of the most useful communication tools I’ve leveraged throughout my career. It is a way of classifying communication styles into four areas to enhance the way you communicate to a person. For example:
Whether you’re a dominant communicator (e.g. High D) or into the details (e.g. High C), DiSC allows you to tailor what you say, how you say it and what you deliver in a way to make it easier for the recipient to absorb and consume. There are lots of resources for DiSC available online and they are well worth using.
How is DiSC relevant to netiquette? One important example is in helping you respond appropriately to emails and instant messages. You can bring the best out of individuals and groups by communicating in their particular DiSC style (not yours). Knowing how you should communicate helps refine what you should say and how you say it. It speeds up the receiving of information and reduces the redundancy in communicating it.
I like to add emotion when writing emails, sending instant messages or communicating during an online meeting. With that in mind, if I want to leverage emotion which could be interpreted in many ways, I’ll add an emoji to make it easier for the receiver to interpret. Within meetings this process is easier. Add gestures such as a thumbs up, nodding or a simple smile to convey your message to greater effect. It takes practice to do this instinctively, however once learned, it can be a powerful tool in conveying your message as well as persuading and influencing your audience.
Emotion however is a double-edged sword. Within the Toastmasters world we are encouraged to use vocal variety, to pause for effect, to vary our pace and use words for impact. Whilst all of these are important, one must strike a balance between making an impact and it being interpreted the wrong way. The world is now much smaller than it was 18 months ago. We are connecting with more diverse cultures, audiences and global teams than we have been previously. Yes, DiSC plays a large role on whether (and how) we emote, but we should also be more obvious when inserting emotion into our communication.
Email is not going away. Your panacea of “inbox zero” (coined by Merlin Mann) never seems to last more than a day. We can help each other by leveraging the difference between TO, CC and BCC. For example:
TO: The primary recipients who need to read and action your email.
CC: Secondary recipients who should be aware of the email however no action is required from them. Simply put, they are listed as an FYI.
BCC: Many use this as a “cover your arse” technique however I use it for a special purpose. I move people from TO/CC to BCC as a powerful signal to reduce email SPAM. This approach requires clear communication to everyone on that email. Therefore, before sending a “reply to all” response, I move all the redundant recipients from TO/CC to BCC and communicate that change accordingly. That way BCC recipients won’t continue to be spammed with copious amounts of “reply to all” emails that are not relevant to them anymore.
You should always re-categorise email recipients with each and every reply you send. One recipient may have been on the TO field on the original email however as part of your response should now be CC’d. Similarly, you may need someone to action a point in your email then move them from CC to the TO field. Pay it forward and always re-categorise recipients before sending your response. It ultimately saves time for everybody.
The last aspects to note with BCC is its use for privacy and GDPR related communications. If you’re sending a mail-out email, then use BCC.
This is a bold statement, however, please humour me! When writing emails, I encourage you to anticipate the response of the recipients in the TO field. Said differently you can potentially reduce sending two emails to just one by asking an anticipatory question. Let me give you an example:
Email 1 (Sender): Hi, can you meet up for a meeting next week to discuss Project A?
Email 2 (Responder): Yes, I can meet next week to discuss Project A. When are you thinking of meeting?
Email 3 (Original Sender): Great, how about Monday at 4pm for 30 minutes?
Email 4 (Original Responder): Sure, let’s do that time. Please send a meeting request for us to connect.
Email 5 (Original Sender): No problem, it’s on its way.
That’s 5 emails to agree on a meeting to discuss Project A. Is there a better way? Using the words “If so” or “if not” are powerful ways of reducing email by at least 50%.
Here is the above example revised using this technique….
Email 1 (Sender): Hi, can you meet up for a meeting next week to discuss Project A? If so, can you meet on Monday at 4pm for 30 minutes? Let me know and I’ll schedule a meeting.
Email 2 (Responder): Sure, I’m available on Monday and can do 4pm. Looking forward to receiving the meeting request.
The revised approach halved the emails required as the sender is writing the email anticipating the response. Not all emails are this simple, however, wherever possible use this anticipation technique versus going back and forth. This will reduce the email tennis that is commonplace in the business world.
The above general rules and other ideas have been learned over the years during my various roles. The lessons don’t cover every single aspect of online communication, but they provide a solid basis for the best way to approach communicating via the Internet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Revell is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club,visit www.toastmasters.org