Multiple communication channels etiquette

There exist a lot of etiquettes for modern communication like e-mail, instant-messaging, chatting and so on. Especially in business live it is important to stick to certain communication rules. But also in private communication it may help you to improve your style and understanding of the receiver by using appropriate communication etiquette.
Just check a web search engine for keywords like “netiquette”, “email etiquette”, or “chatiquette” and you will find hundreds of websites dealing with that issue. Basically these websites have a lot in common but may differ in some certain rules.
However, unfortunately these rules just describe how to behave within a specific medium. They don’t deal with the interdependencies of different communication channels. But nowadays a lot of people are online in different media at the same time. Just like me in this moment I am online with cell phone, SMS, Email, ICQ and MSN. But do I really need to stick to the communication channel where I started conversation? – No, not for sure. When knowing this some people tend to switch conversation channel, for example from Email to ICQ or from ICQ to telephone or the other way around. Others spread the same message via multiposting to different channels to reduce the risk of receiver’s inattention to almost 0%. But is this appropriate behaviour? Don’t we need etiquette for channel switching, too? – Yes, we do.
That’s why I want to state some important rules when using different ways of communication.

At the beginning I need to point at an important dimension of communication: immediateness.
The most immediate communication is face-to-face communication of course. Even live video chat is not as immediate as face-to-face communication. Even if there would be no information loss in video chat due to limited data rate, it would still be less immediate because of processing and transmission of the message. For electronic communication I can find the following order in immediateness (descending order):

  • Video chat/ video telephone
  • Normal telephone
  • Instant messaging/ chat
  • SMS/ voice mailbox
  • Email
  • Online guestbook owned by receiver/ discussion board/ weblog of receiver
  • Online guestbook or weblog owned by other users

Please note that the distances in immediateness between the different channels are not equal.

Now, please think about the following rules:

  1. Use only one communication channel for your conversation. Don’t spread the same message to multiple channels. If you have an important message, use the most immediate channel you can use. It is annoying when getting an identically message via ICQ, email and SMS just because the sender does not want to spend money for a telephone call. You may have saved money because you were using the time and the goodwill of the receiver. At the end the receiver will have more effort to delete the redundant messages. This is not nice. In case you will have to switch the channel anyway, mention this switching in all channels you are going to use. For example: you have an important message but only voicemail entered by calling the receiver. In this case tell the voice mailbox, that you will send that message also in a different channel (maybe email) and mention in the new channel, that you dropped a similar message at his/her voice mailbox.
  2. Always use the most immediate communication channel which fits your communication goal best. It makes no sense to put a note at the fridge that the staircase is recently cleaned and slippery (put it at the staircase instead) as well it makes no sense to write in the receivers online guestbook that he/she will get visitors in one hour. If you have a very important message and you directly need response, it is the best to call by telephone. Just if the receiver does not pick up the phone you should switch to less immediate channels while hoping the message will be received anyway.
  3. Don’t switch the channel without telling your conversation partner in the initial channel. For example: you got a SMS and you want to answer by email because the answer will be longer than comfortable with SMS: write a quick SMS that you will answer by email. Usually people expect an answer in the channel they initiated. That’s why you need to tell them your will for switching the channel. Otherwise they may wait for your reply for a long time…

I know, sometimes it is not easy to follow these rules, but it will make your way of communication more successful and more professional

Some examples for etiquette websites:
Email Etiquette:
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HA012054101033.aspx
http://www.emailreplies.com/Index.html

SMS Etiquette:
http://www.wirelessdevnet.com/newswire-less/thefeature04.html

Netiquette:
http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1855