I often get asked if etiquette ever changes. Yes, it does over time; two examples come to mind.
I’ve been teaching business etiquette seminars for 10 years. One of the most popular topics is e-mail communication. Participants always want to know the etiquette of salutations: What’s OK and what isn’t?
In those early seminars a decade ago, we focused on the importance of starting e-mails just like a letter, with “Dear” followed by the person’s name. Over the last few years, that advice has morphed. “Dear” may still be used when writing to a complete stranger the first time, but more and more I see the less formal and friendlier “Hi” or Hello.”
As we are more comfortable using the technology and recognize it as a less formal medium than a written-on-paper letter, it makes sense that the style of address has adapted as well.
Another area where we see a major change is telephone etiquette — specifically, message taking and voice mail. I’ve noticed that the number of phone messages I take for someone has dropped to almost nil. The advent of voice mail and smartphones have diminished the need for a third party to take and deliver a message.
Voice mail itself may be past its prime. But the basics of what constitutes a successful voice mail still exist: state your name, number, and a brief (one sentence) reason for your call. Repeating your number a second time is even better.
I became acutely aware of the decline of voice mail as I left voice mails for my daughters. They never listened to them. Their phones would indicate I had called, so they would simply call me back. “Didn’t you listen to my voice mail?” I’d ask. Invariably the response was, “No, I saw you called, so I’m calling you back.”
Previously etiquette would have called for listening and responding to voice mails you received. As a baby boomer, my inclination is to contact someone by calling them on the phone and leave a voice mail. But I’m learning that often the quickest way to get a response is to curb my natural inclination and text instead.
Etiquette does change. From handwritten messages to voice mail to texting, it can change rapidly. But this is constant: No matter how you communicate, do it considerately and respectfully.
E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.