Back to the future: Protocols for the 21st Century

July 30, 2013

By: Anne McCarthy

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the informality of life in the 21st Century.  I am convinced “business casual” makes me a more productive professional and a week without pantyhose is better than an extra week of vacation.

At the same time, I still hold on to the old-fashioned belief that PR professionals are the de facto standard bearers of business etiquette.  First impressions are lasting impressions.  From my perspective, I think we could all dust off or our Emily Post Handbooks and raise the bar ever so slightly.  Here are a few examples of what I would call ‘low hanging fruit:’

  1. Texting While Chewing.  Meeting face-to-face is less and less common these days.  When we do sit down for a meal, how often do we automatically approach the nicely set linen table and immediately throw down our smart phones as if we’re dealing cards at a poker table? It’s about as gauche as putting a purse on a dining table or using a toothpick in public.  How tough would it be to take a page from the past and “check our smart phones at the door” or at least agree not to text while chewing?
  2. Interlopers on Conference Calls.  Home offices are practical and logical. They are even ecological.  However, I do find it a bit inappropriate to have barking dogs competing for airtime in conference calls.  Although I must admit, the occasional bark from a Basset Hound is sometimes more interesting than some of the monologues I’ve suffered through!  Love the canines; let’s simply put the pooches in their yards or in their crates while we’re taking care of business.
  3. Mother, May I?  I think we can all agree English is now the global language of business.  William Safire, known as the “grammar nitpicker,” would probably be turning over in his grave if he were to read or listen to our content today.  Grammar, spelling and vocabulary should be as sacred to us as assets, liabilities and accurate figures are to our finance colleagues.  Proofing, spelling and editing are a demonstration of respect for those consuming our content.
  4. “When You Care to Send the Very Best.” Emails and text messages are great communications tools, but there are some “life occasions” that justify a card or a personal note.  For instance, how appropriate is it to email your sentiments to a colleague at the time of a marriage or at the time of a death? Depending on the occasion, sometimes a good, old-fashioned personal note – sent by snail mail – trumps the efficiency of a digital expression.
  5. A Potty Mouth is still a Potty Mouth.  I love the short hand that texting has afforded us.  Not sure a few of our ‘generally-accepted acronyms’ are appropriate for business correspondence.  If we are truly PC, are OMG and WTF acceptable?  My rule of thumb is don’t commit an expression to writing unless you’re willing to say it in a crowded conference room – on the floor of the United Nations!

If we practice what we preach, there is no question that we believe brands are formed by what you say and how you behave and reputations are shaped by what others say about you based on a shared perspective.   By setting the bar just a bit higher, maybe good business etiquette will become hip, serve as a point of differentiation and go viral!