Has digital communication created bad manners?
Never in the course of human history has there been so many different ways to communicate. Phone, email, IM, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Kik, and countless other platforms provide us with opportunities to chat, enter dialogue, and form relationships with our friends, families, colleagues, and other fellow humans on this hurtling hunk of rock.
More and more are we conducting business almost entirely online; with many a transaction taking place entirely via email and similar digital channels. A state of affairs that, perhaps, makes it easier for us to behave in ways that we’d never dream of doing in the physical realm – the ‘real world’ as it were.
When we converse with a colleague, client, prospective new business partner, or anyone else for that matter, the engagement is bound by certain standards of etiquette. An unwritten sense of polite decorum.
In a face-to-face encounter, you’ll speak to someone and, invariably, the other person will actually speak back to you. If you do them a favour, they’ll say thanks. If you’re discussing a particular issue, you’ll exchange thoughts and ideas.
In other words, you’ll have a conversation.
But is the same true of the way we interact online?
How often, in your work, have you followed up on a lead, emailed over the details requested, taken the time to pull together a value proposition, maybe suggested a follow-up meeting or chance to present, only to find that you’re met with deafening virtual silence?
Nothing. As though the interaction never happened?
OK, your product or service may not fit the bill; the person may have opted for another company. It happens and that’s the way of the world. Deal with it.
But to receive NO reply, whatsoever?
A simple email that takes a few seconds to draft is all it takes:
“Hi, thanks for your email. Unfortunately, the product is not quite right for our needs, and we won’t be proceeding with your offer. Thanks for your time, Sincerely, Sandra.”
Now, I know what many of you are thinking: You need to toughen up, stop being so thin-skinned, and possibly other, less than complimentary variations on the theme.
But are there not deeper-lying issues to consider, concerning the way in which we standardise communication behaviour in an online business environment?
We may not get too offended by the lack of response in the simplistic scenario above, but it can certainly lead to a degree of frustration; not to mention the disruption to your productivity. Tine wasted trying to chase a response to an enquiry that’s going to ultimately prove a dead-end.
Moreso, however, is the message that you might be conveying about how you communicate online, in general. Social media, the internet, and online review platforms such as Glassdoor has made the business community a lot smaller – with aspects such as company reputation and employer brand a digital age word of mouth. You may have opted not to get back to that person about the sales call; but who else does that person speak with? Is your unresponsiveness being construed as a lack of professional courtesy that might be harming your brand?
If you’re a company that finds it easy to be dismissive of emails, are you harming your reputation as a personable business, with whom others may want to trade?
Lines of communication may be many and varied, but the manner and attitude we take to that communication is important. There may be less physical, real-world interaction, but that doesn’t mean people don’t value the notion that there is someone at the other end, listening, and paying at least some attention to what you’re saying.
Manners cost nothing – but their worth, even in today’s impersonal virtual world, can still be beyond measure.
WRITTEN BY ED HALSEY
Any opinions expressed here are my own and not the views of any of my employers. They are personal views based upon a 15-year career in insurance across underwriting and sales roles at mainstream insurers, consultancy firms and technology providers.