Hiding Behind Technology


by Samuel Greengard

Today I'm putting on my Mr. Manners hat for Etiquette Hour.

It's ironic that in an era of instantaneous everyone-is-wired global communication, reaching people is tougher than ever. I can't count the number of times I've wound up sending two or three or five e-mail or voicemail messages and the person still doesn't respond.

I'll refrain from calling them the "Good Old Days" because they weren't, but before e-mail, before voicemail, before pagers, you used to call someone and they either answered the phone or they didn't. The latter meant they weren't there.

Today's technology has flipped the equation upside down and sideways. Obviously, we're all inundated (thanks in part to the crush of e-mail and voicemail messages) and occasionally something falls through the cracks. But let's be honest: people hide behind technology and blame spam filters--the digital equivalent of "The dog ate my homework" for not responding.

You know who you are!

I'm not suggesting you answer your phone and e-mail messages at all hours of the day or night. I also think it's downright dumb to wear an electronic leash while you're supposed to be watching your child's basketball game or piano recital. Or tapping out e-mails every 10 minutes while you're vacationing in the Caribbean.

News flash: the world (and your business) will continue to function without you!

What I am suggesting is a dose of basic etiquette. Specifically, answer your messages within a reasonable time frame! If you don't know about something, admit you don't know but say you'll find out. If you can't accommodate someone, tell the sender that you'll take a pass this time around. If you're on board with a project, let the person know as soon as possible.

You wouldn't ignore someone who stepped into your office with something to say. So, why is it okay to ignore the same person digitally?

Worse, you're not only wasting their time, you're wasting your company's time and undermining productivity. Multiply this mess across the corporate world and the constant drip becomes a flood.

Will someone please get the message?


4 Comments for "Hiding Behind Technology"

  • devans00 February 22, 2011 11:21 am

    Personally, I'm absolutely snowed under by the amount of e-mails I get at home and work. Let alone both places combined. I try to keep up with work email, after all, that's what I'm getting paid for. That means I have little to know desire to wade through 500+ emails and several voicemails when I get home. That doesn't mean I'm trying to be rude or dismissive. It means I'm overwhelmed. Occasionally, I'll give up a weekend day to sort through my personal email. But you can believe that's not every single weekend.

  • Inundated February 22, 2011 9:07 am

    I agree with Art. People have begun to use blast emails to reach out to everyone who could possibly know anything about the issue they are asking about, rather than taking the time to find out who they should actually reach out to. I've found that they expect everyone they blasted that email to stop everything, read the email, and figure out if they were the right person to get it. Enough! Just include me when you have a question for me or you have information that I need to know. And one more thing, don't send the 50 of us on your initial distribution list an email chain where 3 of you are discussing an issue - if you think I need to know - just send me the conclusion of your discussion.

  • Art February 18, 2011 10:28 am

    I fear that following this suggested code of conduct will assure that virtually NO work gets done. Currently over-communication is the rule, not the exception. If you answer every email, every CC, every "drop by your office" type comment, I wager you will have about 20% of your day left to complete real work. E-mail just makes it too easy to "drop by" 15 people in the time it used to take to visit one person and complete a conversation. (A conversation in which two people, not 15, had to be part of the process.) Yes, messages dealing with real responsibilities (customers, task assignments from your boss, or real calls for specific help from team mates or subordinates) do require timely responses. But the rest of the e-mail blizzard? Until Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo add a feature that automatically returns every unread email over 48 hours old to the sender stamped "unopened" and deletes it from my in-box? I'm going to continue using the best alternative: ignoring them. Deleting them once a week. And getting my real job done. If I miss one that's urgent to someone? They will drop by or call. And then the TWO of us can solve the problem, with real give-and-take, in less time than typing an email response.

  • khach san da lat February 16, 2011 11:33 pm

    totally agree: You wouldn't ignore someone who stepped into your office with something to say. So, why is it okay to ignore the same person digitally?

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