8 Tips for Respectful Online Communication at Work

July 23, 2013
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

I find myself reviewing our program content and relying on the Integrated Experience more and more, not only in face-to-face communication, but in electronic and written communication as well. Let's examine how we communicate electronically with both our internal and external customers, and how we can improve that communication.

How often have you received an email with no greeting? How about no closing? Have you ever received an email or written directive without a please or thank-you attached? How about emails or notifications with intense words like "Imperative" or "Effective immediately"? Or have you ever received emails or memos with underlined statements, bolded statements, CAPITALIZATIZED STATEMENTS, italicized statements, excessive punctuation (!!!!???), or even all these components at once? How did that make you feel?

While I am certainly as guilty as the next person of shooting off a quick response to a coworker, I make a concerted effort to only send a quick yes/no/maybe response to people I have a good personal relationship with. Why? To start with, let's take a look at the questions posed above.

  • Greetings and Closings
    If you don't have a standard for communication in your company, you may want to use standard letter-writing etiquette and employ:
    • Greetings such as Hello, Hi, Greetings, or even Hey, etc.
    • Closings such as Thank you, Regards, Respectfully, Best, etc.
    If you leave this important part of communication off, recipients may question the meaning behind your message or feel that your communication is more pointed than you intended. If you include these salutations, you communicate respect to the people you're writing to.
  • Please and Thank You
    If you're a leader, manager, executive vice president, owner, or CEO of your company, an employee may have to follow a directive you give no matter what. Nevertheless, keep in mind the old saying "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar," because it holds as true in the workplace as it does elsewhere. People are more willing and eager to fulfill requests when you're respectful and you acknowledge their time and skills, rather than when you command, "Just do it."
  • Imperative and Effective Immediately
    When these words are overused, they can lose their meaning and effectiveness. If they're overused or misused, employees may not take them seriously when it really is imperative that they immediately implement a change that could affect their health or safety. You may have a Boy Who Cried Wolf situation in which employees miss the importance of your message because of the perceived unimportance of the words.
  • Underline, Bold, CAPS, Italics, and !!!!!!
    The term Paraverbal Communication refers to the tone, volume, and cadence with which a person speaks. Paraverbal Communication can also be observed in the written word. For example, capitalization is often thought of as "yelling." Underlining, bolding, and italicizing also affect the tone of a written communication. Excessive punctuation can be perceived as either "yelling" or having a "tone." Be certain that when you bold, underline, italicize, etc. something, it's truly necessary. Otherwise, you may give the impression of having an attitude or tone that you don't intend.
  • Know Your Audience
    If you're communicating with someone you don't know very well, it's better to err on the side of caution and use greetings, closings, thank-yous, and full sentences. This is why I try very hard to only send a quick response to people who I believe will be less likely to misinterpret my meaning.

While this post focuses primarily on the writer, let's not forget that the recipient has a responsibility in this as well. If you receive communication that has any of the elements described above, you can do your part to create a workplace that embodies respect, service, and safety by taking one or more of the following actions:

  • Take a Step Back
    This means emotionally and even sometimes physically. Move away from the situation and understand that your own Precipitating Factors are going to play a part in how you read communication coming to you. You have a responsibility to not become part of the problem.
  • Get It Verbal
    Talk to the individual in person and seek out clarification on the meaning of the communication. If you can't speak to them face to face, the phone is a better alternative than sending back an email which could then be misconstrued on the other person's end.
  • Respond to the Facts
    You may receive emails with personal opinions that appear anxious, defensive, or out of place in the context of the message. When this happens, respond as much as possible only to the facts of the situation. Set limits if necessary by steering the individual back to the issue at hand and by not engaging in a tit-for-tat power struggle. I understand that this can be easier said than done, but it is an important step in maintaining a respectful workplace.

Follow Cassy's additional steps to rationally detach, outlined in her blog post, "Don't Take It Personally."

Now the ball's in your court. How will you change the manner in which you communicate, or what will you do the next time you receive a not-so-great email?

Schedule a Consultation

Learn how CPI’s training programs can benefit your organization.

Let's Connect