Are You a Good Social Citizen?

Amy Fox  |

What is it about being behind a computer or mobile screen that changes the way we communicate? With the barrier of the screen, people feel more comfortable and brave when responding to an issue or handling a tricky interaction. In some cases, this can be helpful, enabling you to go through your thought process and refine what you want to say. In most cases, however, if you find yourself having to navigate your communication so carefully, you really should pick up the phone. In fact, in this age of social technology, that is my first rule for social citizen etiquette.

Pick Up the Phone

If you’re struggling at all to write the email, just pick up the phone. Struggling to put something into words should be a big red flag that tells you it’s time to check yourself. Nothing can replace your real tone of voice, and the way you would communicate to someone in person. If you are challenged in getting your point across, check your delivery format. This is especially important when emotions are at play. Many of us have learned the hard way that when emotions are involved, you never write that email.

It’s all about intent and effect when it comes to communication. What is the intent that needs to come across? What is the effect that you hope to achieve? If it involves conveying emotion, or it could possibly stir up emotion in others, allow your social citizen filter to pop up and guide you in the direction of in-person communication.

On the other hand, if it’s just informational, email is fine. If you need things documented, need to keep notes, or need a paper trail, email typically works great. Without a good filter in place, though, information can get misconstrued. What is your intent? What impact might it have? If it’s anything that could fall into a gray area of potentially negative or mixed reception, think through how you want to communicate.

Emoticons and All Caps

When it comes to emoticons, there simply isn’t a place for them in the work world. Anything can be misconstrued. Take a “lol” or a smiley face, for example. If you were to put that into a face-to-face environment, are you laughing with someone or at them? Are you smirking or smiling? If you’re going to try to be funny or minimize or make light of something, stay away from that type of humor in email because you have no idea how the other person will perceive it. Email communication is tricky enough when it comes to tone and how it is received, so adding another layer of emotional vagueness is something to avoid.

Emoticons are a buffer, and if there is something of real importance being communicated, they can devalue your message, making it seem less important and more informal. There is a time and a place for that level of communication, and it is outside of the office with those in your personal world.

The same goes for writing in all caps. Are you writing larger so you can read it more easily? Are you trying to emphasize certain words? Are you shouting?  Writing in all caps frequently comes across as the latter. If it could stir up emotion, don’t do it.

Please and Thank You

One of the most common social citizen pitfalls when it comes to text or email is being overly brief and too direct. Too often, people forget to mind the manners they grew up learning when it comes to technology. Is that how you would have handled it if you were around the dinner table, asking someone to pass the salt? If you just tell someone what to do, even if you’re only trying to be quick and get through things and you think it’s just email, it’s going to come across like you’re being bossy, or that your tone is short or curt. Use “please” and “thank you” in every email.

Human beings are emotional, and you don’t know what you’re stirring up because of your choice of medium or your lack of thoughtfulness. Intent and effect are a crucial combination when it comes to using technology. So, be thoughtful. Check yourself when it comes to communication and always default to a personal delivery. Whatever you do, you leave lasting impressions. Make sure you’re leaving good ones.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:



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