Professional Protocol: How Should We Communicate?
For better or worse during the workday, email has supplanted telephone communication for “talking” one-to-one or one-to-group for many and most business communication. This is not a personal choice, it’s just how digital communications have evolved and, in practice, that seems to complement the protocols of “open office plans” and shared workplace settings where the only discernible noises most times during the day are keystrokes on a computer (and an occasional outburst of one or another).
I lament the erosion of talking and listening to live human voices. And I welcome the parts of my day, scheduled and otherwise, where I actually get to talk to someone.
In most workplaces, a desktop or conference room telephone still is available for more urgent conversations — but I still watch colleagues let their phones ring, wait for a voice mail, and then later answer that voice mail by email. On the other hand, I actively screen — and if it’s a number I recognize, I answer it. It seems that if someone wants to talk to me now, they’ll be calling me, right?
Is this a generational thing? Or a loss of common courtesy and protocol?
Then there’s the email sent in the workplace between colleagues who are in close proximity of each other.
Here’s a novel idea, take a moment to save your eyesight, take a break from the screen and go talk to the person nearby. Oral skills are still needed in business — and how wonderful it is to speak to someone clearly and concisely, particularly when we have the privilege of working a few feet away from each other. Has establishing eye contact and talking to each other also fallen victim to open office spaces — I thought the intent of such plans was to facilitate collaboration?
Really, we shouldn’t hide behind our screens all the time, should we?
It’s 2017, so now let’s introduce texting and instant messaging to the office — and now I find I’m the one guilty of being non-responsive.
Somehow these “newer” digital, mobile channels have worked their ways into daily business communication taxonomy, because some way, somehow email may not be immediate enough.
So now I find myself stumbling upon texts and instant messages on my smartphone at odd times during the day — because, alas, I’m actually working, and that doesn’t entail watching every screen/page/pop-up available to me simultaneously, 24/7. I only have so much capacity, and to the best of my ability, I’m not able to take to email, instant messaging, texting, and person-to-person and telephone all at once, while developing content as I do for the majority of my day-to-day work.
Thankfully, the instant messaging we use in the office is a “group” platform. My colleagues, waiting for me to respond to digital cues seem to know this: “Gee, Chet, boss i.m.ed you 30 minutes ago — are you going to answer him?” I look up from my computer, where my boss also emailed me on another topic just moments before … why would he instant message me here, and then email me on another subject there. He’s my boss — so I’d better find out!
My take-away: Early on, make sure to establish a communication protocol with bosses, colleagues, clients and partners, setting expectations for immediacy of responsiveness and training where necessary … or you may find yourself frustrated, or frustrating others.
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Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated direct marketing. He serves on the Direct Marketing Association International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York and Marketing Idea eXchange, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too!