Minding Your Communications Manners

Aug 31, 2011 Beth Monaghan

Dear Mobile Phone Talker/Texter/Twitterer/Facebook User/Fill in the Blank,

When I was little, my parents made me address their friends as Mr. and Mrs. Even now as I slide toward the upper end of my 30s, when I think of those family friends, their names are forever etched in my mind as Mr. and Mrs. Dyrli and Mr. and Mrs. Rabenstein.

Back then we had a mustard yellow rotary telephone with a spiral cord. My mother taught me to answer by announcing my name, “Hello, this is Beth,” and we had hard and fast rules about when it was appropriate to place phone calls. You did not call during dinner, after 9 p.m. or before 9 a.m. In turn, we answered the phone when it rang – often running to get to it before the miracles of voice mail and caller ID.

As you and I know well, it’s a lot more complicated now. Many of us sleep with our mobile phones next to our beds (I mean, a friend who does not want me to use her name told me that she does that). I work with a bunch of PR professionals, and we’re always thinking about the mode of communication that will be the most palatable for the media we are contacting.

Personally though, I am often overwhelmed by keeping track of all of the messages awaiting my response. At times, the need to tick through my correspondence has compelled me to multitask by getting in a few calls while I shop for my daughter’s favorite butternut squash and apple YoBaby yogurt.

To muffle this urge, I have turned off all of the notifications on my Mac and my iPhone. It’s a daily struggle to put the iPhone down, but I am trying, and I hope you don’t mind if I offer a few suggestions for managing all of these technologies – and hopefully improving our interactions.

  1. Please don’t take a call while we’re having dinner. Human beings standing or sitting in front of you should almost always take priority over those who are interrupting you electronically. Even in less personal scenarios, such as shopping for bar soap at CVS, I don’t talk on my phone while checking out because there is a person at the register, and they deserve the two minutes of my attention that are required to check out.
  2. If you’re shopping for groceries, focus on the food. You might not agree, but when you’re at the grocery store, gym, riding on the train, and in hundreds of others public places, it’s tough for me to navigate my own business when you are doing yours so publicly. I hate feeling like I am being rude because someone is in mid-conversation and not paying attention when I’m trying to get to the ice cream case.
  3. If you call me three times in a row I will think you’re in the hospital. If I don’t pick up my phone the first time you call, it means that I am busy and can’t talk. Unless it is an emergency, in which case, you should call again because my heart stops every time I get a repeat call, please leave a message and I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.
  4. Text messages are not the same as email. This one might be a generational thing, I but like text messages for their brevity. Unlike teenagers who send upwards of 1,000 texts each month, I don’t use them for conversations. I text to coordinate about logistics or when I need to get back to someone urgently and can’t place a call.
  5. Dinner and sleep are sacred. Every time my phone rings or I hear the ding of a text message, I jump to see it. These noises make me stop what I am doing. I love hearing from you, but I value sleep and dinner with my family more than most things in life, so please don’t call or text during those hours. I don’t have a hard and fast time rule like Larry David’s “The Cut-off Time,” so I trust your good judgment.
  6. Remember the difference between public and private messages. I know it’s confusing. A Facebook Wall seems like great places to put everything, but it’s not the place to ask about my recent doctor’s appointment. I love that you are interested in my life, but want to keep some things private, which is where private Facebook messages are great. TechCrunch posted a great example recently with the story, “Jeremy, Call Your Mother. She’s Worried Sick.” This applies to Twitter too though – @ messages, while semi-private, are public if you look in the right place (here’s our Twitter cheat sheet if you want a refresher).

Now that you’ve read all of these, you’re probably thinking that a bunch don’t apply to you. That’s the point. While many of these could be universal (and should be if you ask me), they are the things that I find appropriate. So when in doubt, just use the Golden Rule and treat others as you would have them treat you.

Yours Truly,

The woman trying to squeeze past you in aisle 5


Topics: Technology, Twitter, Facebook, Social Media
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of Inkhouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at Inkhouse.

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