Milton Erickson once said,

“Change will lead to insight far more often than insight will lead to change”.

Well, change we have—that’s for sure—especially when it comes to how (and with what tools) we communicate.

Contained within this post are certain suggestions on how to navigate our modern era of information & communications technology (ICT) with finesse, professional civility and grace.

The topic will be covered in detail at SBUC’s October 17th workshop (registration found HERE)—but in the meantime, here are some things to consider straight away.

It’s New – Really New

Though it feels like modern information & communications technology (ICT)  has been here for a while, the phenomena of ubiquitous integrated wireless computing and communication is rather recent.

Social networking, volume instant messaging, status updates and the open graph are even more recent. These things monumentally affect how we live, work, play and relate. And, at times, we can unconsciously get a bit lost. When we do, etiquette and professionalism often take a hit.

Author Douglass Rushkoff speaks to how monumentally ICT impacts how we function and relate. It affects our brain chemistry and it impacts society at large.

Emily Post Online sites a recent Intel study

“Mobile technology is still relatively novel. After all, it was just eight years ago that Intel integrated WiFi into the computer with its Intel® Centrino® processor technology, thus enabling the unwired laptop.

Smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices are still in their infancy, so it’s no surprise that people still struggle with how to best integrate these devices into their lives…

New digital technologies are becoming a mainstay in consumers’ lives, but we haven’t yet worked out for ourselves, our families, communities and societies what all the right kinds of behaviors and expectations will be.”

What we do

We may not realize it, but most of us (at least sometimes) do exactly what we don’t like others to do when it comes to mobile technology use.

Again, the Intel study:

“The majority of U. S. adults surveyed (92 percent) agree that they wish people practiced better etiquette when using their mobile devices in public areas [yet] roughly one in five admit to poor mobile behavior […] because everyone else is doing it”

What to do?

The first step is to realize what etiquette is. It’s not just stuffy disciplines of good graces and manners. It’s about deference to, and respect for, other people.

Smart phones and other devices are specifically designed to demand our attention every moment. As such, it can be difficult to fully tune into other people. It takes awareness and discipline.

It’s a new era—yes indeed

…but many age-old principles still apply

Self Cultivation in English Image

Recently while walking down the street, I found a piece of “trash” in front of home that was originally built in 1898. The house was being renovated, and excavated materials were frequently placed on the tree lawn for removal.

One item that remained on the lawn after trash pick-up was a pamphlet called “Self Cultivation in English” by George Herbert Palmer. Palmer was a professor of philosophy at Harvard, and his paper was written in 1894.

Of course I had to pick it up. Our October 17th workshop had already been in the works—and right in front of my eyes appears 100+ year-old related material. On page 14, Palmer notes:

“We heedless and unintending speakers, under no exigency of rhyme or reason, say what we mean but seldom and still more seldom mean what we say.”

In other words, communication is fraught with inaccuracy and unintended messaging. It takes work, patience and persistence to speak (and write) clearly—and to truly say what we mean. 

Communication Modes

Sometimes an instant message or a text is the right mode—but often it is not.

Sometimes email is better.

Sometimes it’s a phone call that’s the right call.

In other cases, it’s important to have a face-to-face discussion.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s right.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of doing what’s not—because it’s perceived to be “easier”. 

Further, the communication mode we choose needs to consider the preference of the parties with whom we communicate. Their preferred mode may not be the same as ours.

Modes are in flux

People are not answering their phones like they used to—Calls are increasingly going to voicemail—And voicemail is increasingly falling to the favor of texts.

Lean-forward situations

Face-to-face encounters, phone calls and text messages are all “lean-forward” modalities. They demand attention. It’s important to realize that when we lean-forward into someone else’s world, we should think twice. What’s their status? What’s their emotional state? Where are they at the moment? Can they focus on the exchange that’s about to occur? Should you have a face-to-face conversation with them? If your gut tells you that you should—you probably should. If you think a phone conversation is best—you may want to schedule it first.


You know that feeling of when you’re talking with someone face-to-face, and while they check email they say, “Uh huh…Whad’ja just say?” It’s a crappy feeling. It may seem like no big deal, but giving your attention to your phone versus the person in front of you—is essentially—an insult. Limit the temptation. Don’t even leave the phone on the table unless necessary. Put it in your bag—or in your pocket.


It’s not a good idea to attempt to tell the whole story in a voicemail message. It may not be heard anyway. That said, on the other hand, if you’re going to leave a voicemail message, leave some amount of detail. Leaving the message “Call me” misses the opportunity to exchange information and may lead to time-wasting phone tag.

The written word

Only 13% of what we mean to convey is conveyed through actual words. The lion share of what we communicate is through nonverbal communication as well as the tone of our voice when we speak.

But what’s interesting is that so much of our communication is now through the written word. As such, our communication is absent many of the aspects that help us convey what we really mean. Without face-to-face communication, we miss the visual queues that aid understanding. As this article points out:

“Therein lies the difference between social media interactions and being socialized. When we remove the context we receive simply by sitting in front of another person, we also remove our filter. No wonder online bullying is so common; it’s too easy. There is only a picture looking at us and we can make a screen name into anyone we want them to be.”

Email and text messages don’t have eyes. There is an anonymity on the Internet that can oddly lean people toward being mean—Argument can accidentally prevail over fruitful discussion. Eye-to-eye conversation is less likely to lead to argument—and if it does—we have the tools at our avail that help us nuance the conversation toward resolution and understanding. 

A basic premise in writing

Sarcasm or subtle humor doesn’t translate well in email and text. Don’t assume the recipient will “get it”.


Email continues to be a dominant mode of communication these days. A few things to consider:

  • Reply-all needs to be used with care
  • Be aware of unnecessary extras in an email message that might slow things down
  • Email messages that are multiple cycles into an exchange often end up with subject lines that have nothing to do with the topic currently being discussed. Take a few seconds to update the subject line so that it’s immediately relevant. The individual with whom you’re communicating will appreciate it—especially if she is on a mobile device
  • Sign-off with your name and number so that your recipient has ongoing easy access to that information with each reply. On the other hand, unless your company requires regulatory legalese at the end of each exchange, limit the long sign-off’s and sales pitches, especially once you’re into an ongoing email volley with an individual


For centuries, the term “text” meant the original and actual words spoken by an individual, versus a reference to a paraphrase, translation or commentary. It was the literal term for saying what you said. The irony today is that the term “text” now means short bursts of abbreviations on a mobile device.

Brevity, yes – But abbreviate? Maybe not.

Even though it may save a few seconds to send “u R so gr8” it’s probably better to say, “Jim, you did a great job at the meeting yesterday. Thank you”. It’s not only more specific, direct and personal, but it also helps you not sound like a twelve-year-old.

That said, a detailed conversation through text doesn’t make sense either. A Reuters article talks about the difference between email and texting. Texting is a “blunt instrument”. Don’t text if fact or subtlety is required. 

Plus, when you think about, a text is like an “all-call”. Years ago, office overhead intercom systems were the only way to get incoming communications to workers running around an office. Every time there’d be an overhead audible page, everyone had to hear every page to anyone else, all the time.

We forget that a text is sort of like an all-call. It’s basically saying, “I don’t care what you’re doing right now, I want you to read this immediately—and I mean right now—drop everything”. Sending a text could end up akin to physically barging into a doctor’s examination room, interrupting a person mid-sentence… or entering a conference room filled with someone else’s meeting.

But texts are personal. Right?

Not always. Push-notification settings usually display a text message on the locked screen of a smart phone—sometimes for others to see.

“Habit” forming technology

As an example, texting can be an easy out or “excuse” for frequent tardiness. The logic goes, “Heck, if I’m running late, I’ll text them”. I admit I’ve been guilty of this.

Sure, a text message notifying your colleague that you’ll be late is better than not doing so—but it’s probably better not to be late in the first place.

Respond or not respond… that is the question

Now that we’re all connected all the time, we tend to expect immediate responses. Generally, we have few excuses for not responding. It’s a good idea to be timely and to respond. It’s a form of respect.

That said, just because someone decides to send something—it doesn’t mean that it will automatically become the receiver’s priority. One needs to realize that not everyone can respond immediately. Also, if there’s not an existing relationship in place, it’s unrealistic to expect a response by default.


Do you like being around people who complain all the time? Neither do I.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have our opinions and express them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t challenge ideas, constructively. Authentic communication is important. But complaining and ranting online is usually unproductive.

Here’s a technique to temper your temper. Try ranting to yourself in your personal journal. Look at what you wrote the next day. If you discover that it brings your mood down—then it will likely bring others down too. Is that what you’re aiming to do? Probably not.

At minimum: Many communication experts suggest to wait at least 30 minutes after crafting an email message before you hit “send”.


Social is a special case reserved for coverage in the Oct 17th workshop.

Sincerely yours,

Craig & Sue of SBUC

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