What would the Queen of Etiquette say about the way we communicate today?

by Carole Minor

The art of communication is getting lost in our evolving electronic world.

How many times in the past week have you communicated via text or email with a client, colleague or family member instead of actually speaking to that person?  How much of your e-correspondence is memorable? How long has it been since you received a handwritten note from anyone but your mother?

Don’t get me wrong. New advances in communication technology have changed my life for the better in so many ways. I do most of my shopping online in a fraction of the time with only the occasional glitch. I can stay in touch fast and cost-effectively with my family, friends and colleagues around the world with texts, email and social media. In fact, texting typically is the only way to get in touch with my daughter when she's away at college. And interactive e-greeting cards can be great to get, except for the time my ex-husband’s card crashed my system. But that’s another story.

With electronic communication tools, my days of playing phone tag are virtually over. Many of our clients prefer to get non-emergency communication via email or text, given their busy travel schedules. So do our media contacts, who can respond to our queries when time permits. We can distribute news releases and get article approvals in a fraction of the time faxing and overnight mail used to take. I can multitask at the office, firing off a short email or text while on a conference call.

No question that technological developments make communicating faster, easier and more efficient. In fact, now we can interact with one another all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But are we really connecting? Immediacy is wonderful in our e-world. But how many times has something you’ve said via email, text or Twitter been misinterpreted by the viewer and vice versa? Some of the messages I receive are so terse or so convoluted that I have to pick up the phone to sort them out. Senders might choose to trash a message that could provoke a negative response if more time had elapsed between writing the thing and hitting the send button.

When you're sitting in a meeting, walking down the street, shopping in a store -- anywhere really -- many of the people you see today are looking down at their mobile phone screens and moving their fingers at a furious pace. How can these people really be present for the task at hand or be a meaningful part of the virtual conversation? Being able to fire off random thoughts or questions can be compelling, but technology's limitations, such as a Twitter message only allowing 140 characters, don't encourage in-depth conversations about most topics or true relationship building.

On the other hand, face-to-face interaction, telephone conversations and handwritten correspondence help people stay truly connected. Writing someone a note, for example, sets you apart because it's more personal and meaningful. The recipient knows you cared enough to spend the extra time to actually write. A colleague of mine never fails to send a handwritten note immediately after an event calls for one – a lunch treat, professional triumph or personal crisis. And he’s memorable because of it, evoking a kinder, more mannerly era. 

The point is that electronic communication has its place, but should not always replace written or verbal communication. In my opinion, one should never send condolences, thank yous, congratulations, Dear John/Jane letters, or business relationship terminations electronically. Online birthday cards should be used sparingly, not routinely substituted for the real thing. 

So, the next time you’re tempted to email or text on one of those special occasions, opt for personal and memorable. Ask yourself what Emily Post, the Queen of Etiquette, would do.

And one more thing: Never send virtual flowers when a relationship is at stake.