Communication Etiquette Revisited


In the face of so many technologically seductive ways to connect, it's hideous how we do everything possible to create disconnect.

1. Listen to your voicemails. How often to you get a call back after leaving a message and the caller tells you they didn't listen to your message -- they just saw you called? I have friends for whom I don't even leave messages, knowing they're not going to hear them. For days we might trade entries in each others' "Missed Calls" lists. This is not communication. It doesn't save time. A voice message reveals why you're calling. The advent of answering machines was the result of progress. Leave a message.

2. Return the communication via the same method you received it. If I call you, don't email me back. I want to talk to you. If I email you, email me back -- unless you have so much to say that email would be a waste of time. If I send you a message via carrier pigeon, get thee to the dove-cote. Don't take the easy way out.

3. Stop being so efficient with your Blackberry. If I write you an email message that requires a thoughtful response, don't "take care of business" by sending me a pre-verbal PDA response during dinner. Wait until tomorrow, write me back. So much disconnect comes from just volleying the ball back into someone else's court in order to keep an empty inbox.

4. Don't tell me to call you. That makes work for me. If you want to talk to me, say "I'll call you." When you tell me to call you or email you or text you, you create work for me. Unless you're my boss, or I'm insanely difficult to get a hold of (see #1), say "I'll call you." This is an especially nice gesture with friends. The French have a hilarious way of getting around this agency: they use a reflexive verb and say "We'll call each other" ("On se telephone"). That way no one knows who's supposed to call. If you really don't want to call, be French.

5. Stop texting me looooong messages when I'm asleep.

6. Answer the phone. I'm trying to work on this one. I find myself not answering the phone, ever, even with people I want to talk to. It somehow seems easier to let them leave a message (again, see #1) and then to return the call later. This actually creates more work for me, because then I have all these calls to return. I'm tryihng to answer the phone if I'm available to talk, have a conversation of reasonable length, and get off. It's much easier to answer and deal with it than to "decline" or "ignore" (so rude! but so tempting!) and have to return the call later.

7. Don't leave a message on my home machine without trying to reach me on my cell phone. This one is falling out of relevance as most people are getting rid of home phones. I only use mine for DSL and don't have voicemail on it, so that takes care of that. But let it be known that if you want to get in touch with someone, the best way is usually via their cell number. Leaving a message at the office/home when you know they're not there is a transparently weasely way to avoid connecting.

8. Try to email work-related stuff during work hours. Fine, I'm really, really guilty of this one. Because my work hours aren't the same as the rest of you nine-to-fivers. It's very tempting to answer all your emails at night when no one is at their desks and you can respond to every message without worrying about the insta-responses. First of all, go to bed. You need to leave work when you leave work. Why should you be working around the clock? You need a break. Second, let the people who get to work early to sip their cappuccini and browse Pop Sugar (yes I'm talking to you) have a break. They are going to get your messages when you send them in the morning, but they start the morning with work to do when you've emailed them at 2am. I have yet to practice what I preach on this front.

9. Put the Treo away. Take out that absurd Bluetooth earpiece. Don't put cell phone on the bar/table next to us while we dine. When you're face-to-face with someone, be there. Stop texting under the table, checking your message while your companion goes to the bathroom, or -- horror of horrors -- answering the phone in the restaurant.

10. When you're on the phone, whether on the street or wandering around H&M, use your indoor voice. Those phones have very sensitive microphones. Your Swarovski-bedecked Razr is indeed gorgeous, but I'm trying to dig through the $19 pleather handbags here and you are loud and annoying and need to pipe down.

Grumpy, grumpy, I know. This is as much a reminder list for me as it is a primer for you. Any other points to contribute?

Previously: The Etiquette Lesson Archive