In the beginning there were landlines and it was good! Then came the fax- and so, too the computer, crawling and gnawing its way from a primordial techno-ooze, ever adapting and mutating. Much as life requires a stimulus to grow, as our need for ever faster communication increased, so did the response to that need grow; ever faster, eventually smaller and with more features. While the vestiges of those landlines can still be seen, would our tech-ancestors recognize what we have become?
The answer is a decided, “No!” What would we even say to each other? Of course this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not entirely without merit. Marshall McLuhan’s adage that “the medium is the message” is just as relevant now as it’s ever been (keeping in mind this phrase originated in his 1964 seminal work, Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man, a time when the internet was but mere conjecture.) And with the advent of more cerebral forms of media, including hashtags and “snaps,” a sort of ambiguity regarding communication etiquette has enmeshed itself in what types of correspondence are appropriate and when.
Fear not! Imagine you are a recent college graduate newly navigating the job market, or are a working professional questioning whether “tweeting” your boss is an effective means of asking for a raise, it’s safe to say that the old standards still apply. I work as a Sales Manager for two conference centers and while I often have clients reach out via Facebook, the only form of correspondence I respond to is through email. Keeping communication through a professional email address helps keep the water less murky when it comes to boundaries. While, I often answer emails late into the night, I never respond to clients through personal modes of contact.
Now for a bit of a more controversial opinion, I think there is a time and place for emoticons and emojis in the professional workplace. Now hear me out! Communication by text and I mean writing, not just texting from a cellphone, by its very nature suffers the loss of important, tonal information. When we speak to each other, whether on the phone or (audible gasp!) in person, there are subtleties to the lilt of language that betrays certain emotions. Often times, a quick emoji or emoticon can clarify any kind of anticipated negatively perceived message.
But what if your perceptions are correct and the sender did intend their maliciousness? Keep in mind that rash decisions are fleeting, but emails (and the internet for that matter) are forever. It’s much better to let cooler heads prevail than prove how incisive your cutting wit may be. Remember that oftentimes, the more panicky and blame-focused the email, the more likely it was written in haste and under duress. After all, winning a battle but losing the war even in the name of righteousness, still counts as a loss. What do you think your boss cares more about, that your sharp quip dismantled your snarky client or that you lost a piece of new business?