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Office Etiquette 2.0

More collaborative workplaces and changing technology demand new ways to communicate


by Kara Baskin

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Gone are the days of formal memos and staid board meetings—texting, emailing and team-building retreats are here to stay. But with them comes a whole new set of linguistic rules. How to maintain proper etiquette even in an era of casual communication?  Snezana Pejic, director at the Etiquette Academy of New England, has some (polite) suggestions for common scenarios.

At a Roundtable: We’ve all dealt with the pontificating boor who doesn’t know when to stop droning. Pejic suggests appointing a timekeeper for every gathering. This person can either set a time frame for the meeting itself, or they can allow people to speak at pre-set intervals. Once your time is up, it’s someone else’s turn. A boor is more likely to cede the floor if there are rules, rather than by responding to a simple “excuse me.”

In the Morning: If you’re the boss, says Pejic, you set the tone. That means saying hello and good morning to your staff, even when you don’t feel like it. “You’re held to a higher standard, and your behavior trickles down,” she says.

Giving Criticism: Pejic recommends the “sandwich method.” No, that doesn’t mean doling out complaints over lunch. She suggests softening negative feedback by opening and closing discussions with a compliment. Just one catch: “The praise has to be authentic,” she says. “Use specific examples. Instead of saying, ‘You’re such a diplomatic person,’ tell your employee how much you really appreciated his handling of a difficult customer.”

Sending an Email or Text: Pejic has precise standards when it comes to electronic communication. “Treat every email as your own press release,” she urges. Do not use all capitals. This implies yelling. Do not use more than one exclamation point. This implies anger. Emojis are another no-no because they’re far too chummy. And sarcasm? “Unless you’ve known someone for several years, sarcasm doesn’t belong in workplace communication,” she says. 

Receiving an Email or Text: If you receive an angry email, Pejic suggests using it as an opportunity to take a leadership role. Instead of replying in kind, reframe the conversation in a civil way. “Always act. Never react,” she urges. If you get an accusatory note, reply by saying, “’I sense you’re upset,’” she suggests. Instead of apologizing (especially if you don’t feel that you were wrong), respond with, ‘I understand.’”

Above all, responding to rudeness is your opportunity to showcase superior communication skills—if you please.

Photo Credit: Glow/Getty