6 etiquette rules for office communications

Corporate communication has taken a decidedly casual turn, with texting, messaging and even emoticons becoming a standard in the office. Here's how to navigate the tricky etiquette of the new communications frontier.

Etiquette rules for office communications

Etiquette rules for office communications

Written corporate communication has taken a decidedly casual turn, and navigating the ins-and-outs of texting, instant messaging and collaboration platforms -- even emoticons -- can trip up even the savviest wordsmith.

"Writing, especially in the corporate world, used to be formal and stylized, with hard-and-fast rules to follow. There's the intent of a message, and there's the delivery mechanism; we used to use the delivery to convey the intent, but that's not the case anymore," says Tony Ventrice, director of game systems design with Badgeville, an enterprise gamification and collaboration platform. For example, a hard copy letter or even an email used to be the preferred medium for conveying serious, sensitive business information, especially between subordinates and their managers.

Nowadays, though, according to Ventrice, you're more likely to get a quick text from your boss, or receive a short message through Yammer or Slack or some other collaboration platform. So, how can you make sure you're following correct etiquette for these new, informal communication methods? Ventrice offers six tips on how to get your message through politely and concisely, with maximum impact and minimal drama.

Match the medium to the message

Match the medium to the message

First, says Ventrice, you must be aware of the intent of the message and try to use a delivery method that's most appropriate for that. From a sender's perspective, are you asking for information? Status updates? Requesting a favor? Or providing information, an update or reporting on an issue? Try to tailor your language to the message and the medium.

"Don't go overboard writing a formal, flowery message if the medium doesn't fit with that -- you'd never send a 'Dear Boss' message with strict formatting via text message," says Ventrice, "If a text will suffice, by all means, use that format, but if you feel the information would be better delivered and received via email, you should use that."

Always give others the benefit of the doubt

Always give others the benefit of the doubt

Assume the best about the person with whom you're communicating. Most likely, even if a text, email or message seems curt, snarky or mean, the sender didn't intend it to come across that way, it's simply a danger inherent in the medium. Cut them some slack and don't assume they're being a jerk.

"As organizations incorporate more ways to communicate, there's a transition period as workers try and get used to these new mediums. Build in a lot of understanding and don't jump to conclusions -- Marsha in accounting probably wasn't deliberately being mean to you, she might not be used to Yammer at the moment," Ventrice says.

Don't be afraid to use emoticons/emoji

Don't be afraid to use emoticons/emoji

Those emoticons actually can be useful, even in corporate communications, says Ventrice. They're not just the bailiwick of teenaged girls anymore. Don't be afraid to use them if you feel your message might be misconstrued, or if you're trying to interject some humor or emotion into an otherwise terse message.

"One thing I often do before I send an email, a text or a message is read aloud what I've written. Sometimes, I notice that what I thought was innocuous could be taken the wrong way, so I add a little smiley face, or a winky face to take the edge off. It's interesting that these emoticons have become a normal part of everyday business communications, and they can really help when the verbal and physical clues we rely on in face-to-face conversation aren't available," Ventrice says.

Don't take things personally

Don't take things personally

It's a great mantra, in general, but it's especiallyh relevant in the area of written, text and mobile communications, according to Ventrice. Don't assume the sender of a nasty-sounding e-mail is politically motivated or trying to make you angry; chances are, they are rushed and haven't taken the time to review their message before they sent it.

Don't get defensive

Don't get defensive

If you happen to receive what looks like a nastygram, don't instantly fire off an equally harsh response -- that will just escalate the situation and make you look bad.

"Don't become defensive, and don't rush to insult the person who sent you that message. You need to be the bigger person and kill 'em with kindness, even if you know the message was sent with ill intent. All of these communications are recorded and saved, so try to make sure you're putting your best, most polite self forward in whatever message you send -- even if it's a response to a nasty one," Ventrice says.

Look at the larger picture

Look at the larger picture

As organizations introduce larger teams, increase remote work capability and new technology to solve business problems, these issues are only going to become more pressing, notes Ventrice. Don't automatically discount these technologies as a flash in the pan, or refuse to communicate using new mediums, or you risk becoming obsolete.