I often get asked if etiquette ever changes. Yes, etiquette changes over time. Two examples come to mind that demonstrate how quickly etiquette does change.
I’ve been teaching business etiquette seminars for ten years. One of the topics most in demand is email communications. Interestingly, participants always want to know the etiquette of salutations: What’s okay and what isn’t? In those early seminars ten years ago, we focused on the importance of starting emails just like a letter, with “Dear” followed by the person’s name. Over the last few years that advice has morphed. Now, it is common to use salutations of “Hi” or Hello” and the person’s name. “Dear” may still be used when writing to a complete stranger the first time, but more and more I see the less formal and friendlier “Hi” or Hello.” As we are more comfortable using the technology and recognize it as a less formal medium than a written-on-paper letter, it makes sense that the accepted style of address has adapted as well.
Another area where we see a major change occurring is in telephone etiquette—specifically with regard to message taking and the use of voicemail. Over the past ten years I’ve noticed that the number of phone messages I take for someone has dropped to almost nil. The advent of voicemail and the use of smartphones have impacted the need for a third party to take down and deliver a message.
Voicemail itself may be well past its prime as a means of communicating. While it may not be as in vogue as texting, the basics of what constitutes a successful voicemail still exist: state your name, your number, and a brief (one sentence) reason for your call. Repeating your number a second time is even better.
I became acutely aware of the demise of the use of voicemail when I realized the uselessness of leaving voicemails for my daughters. They never listened to them. Their phones would indicate I had called, so they would simply call me back. “Didn’t you listen to my voicemail?” I’d ask. Invariably the response was, “No, I saw you called, so I’m calling you back.” While previously the etiquette would have called for listening and responding to the voicemails you received, in today’s world the preferred messaging system is moving to texting. As a baby boomer, my inclination is to contact someone by calling them on the phone and leave a voicemail. But I’m learning that often the quickest way to get a response is to curb my natural inclination and text the person instead.
Etiquette does change. From messages, to voicemail to texting it can change rapidly. But underlying all the change, the constant is that no matter how you communicate, do it considerately and respectfully and you’ll have the best chance of being successful.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.