By Brad Revell, Toastmasters International

The way we interact in the business world has changed dramatically. We have had to transition from the traditional face to face approach to a digital way of working where Zoom, WebEx, Teams are universally used as the new way of connection. Yet we have been interacting face to face for eons. Our brains need to learn and optimise the appropriate behaviours and approaches in maximising each and every interaction online.

Where does the word netiquette come from? Netiquette has evolved from the word etiquette. Whilst etiquette is focused on the conduct and behaviour observed in social life, netiquette is the Internet version.

I have learned and experienced many things in my time as a technology executive and as a member of a Toastmasters International club. As an executive, I have the latest tools and technologies at my fingertips (e.g. “The What”). And, as a Toastmaster, I have developed my communication, public speaking and leadership skills (i.e. “The Why and How”). My aim is to share some of the key tips, tricks and lessons on netiquette through each lens.

Although the Myriam Webster dictionary classifies netiquette as a noun, I suggest treating netiquette as a verb instead. With that in mind, the following areas are the key aspects of netiquette that you should actively use.

General Rules

Everyone has their own opinion on netiquette which makes it difficult to agree on an accepted set of rules. As a starting point, I recommend using the following 10 netiquette general rules:

  1. Include an agenda when scheduling meetings; always. Context is key as it allows participants to prepare in advance.
  2. Agree on actions at the end of each meeting. Don’t just spend the meeting discussing topics with no agreement on the resulting actions at the end. What a waste of time!
  3. Send through notes and actions to meeting participants in the following format: Who does what by when. All three components are key.
  4. Cameras on and mute always at the ready. I have a global shortcut setup to turn my mute function on and off (i.e. MicDrop)
  5. Respond promptly to online communications. This depends on the medium used:
    • Instant Messaging (e.g. SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp, Slack, Teams etc.): Within the day.
    • Email: Within 24 hours. Note: If you need more time, send a quick note letting the sender know you will be delayed. Also let them know your revised timeframe to properly respond.
  6. Ask permission before adding someone to a group or channel etc.
  7. During meetings the host should orchestrate introductions. For example, the host should call on each person to introduce themselves rather than wait for each person to step in. Keep introductions short and relevant to the audience.
  8. Schedule meetings ideally for 30 minutes (think about Parkinson’s law here). If you need more time, then schedule for 45 or 55 minutes. This allows participants a short break between calls.
  9. Always use the in-line reply function versus a generic reply to provide context (a good Wikipedia article on the topic for email is here). Furthermore, point your responses to a particular person if applicable using the @<RECEIPIENT> approach. Most, if not all, applications support both of these capabilities natively. They are very powerful.
  10. Look directly at the camera when speaking during a meeting. This is a tough habit to establish however the rapport you will build is compelling.

DiSC

DiSC is one of the most useful communication tools I’ve leveraged throughout my career. It is a way of classifying communication styles into four areas to enhance the way you communicate to a person. For example:

  • Dominant
  • Influence
  • Steadiness
  • Conscientious

Whether you’re a dominant communicator (e.g. High D) or into the details (e.g. High C), DiSC allows you to tailor what you say, how you say it and what you deliver in a way to make it easier for the recipient to absorb and consume. There are lots of resources for DiSC available online and they are well worth using.

How is DiSC relevant to netiquette? One important example is in helping you respond appropriately to emails and instant messages. You can bring the best out of individuals and groups by communicating in their particular DiSC style (not yours). Knowing how you should communicate helps refine what you should say and how you say it. It speeds up the receiving of information and reduces the redundancy in communicating it.

Emotion

I like to add emotion when writing emails, sending instant messages or communicating during an online meeting. With that in mind, if I want to leverage emotion which could be interpreted in many ways, I’ll add an emoji to make it easier for the receiver to interpret. Within meetings this process is easier. Add gestures such as a thumbs up, nodding or a simple smile to convey your message to greater effect. It takes practice to do this instinctively, however once learned, it can be a powerful tool in conveying your message as well as persuading and influencing your audience.

Emotion however is a double-edged sword. Within the Toastmasters world we are encouraged to use vocal variety, to pause for effect, to vary our pace and use words for impact. Whilst all of these are important, one must strike a balance between making an impact and it being interpreted the wrong way. The world is now much smaller than it was 18 months ago. We are connecting with more diverse cultures, audiences and global teams than we have been previously. Yes, DiSC plays a large role on whether (and how) we emote, but we should also be more obvious when inserting emotion into our communication.

TO vs. CC vs. BCC

Email is not going away. Your panacea of “inbox zero” (coined by Merlin Mann) never seems to last more than a day. We can help each other by leveraging the difference between TO, CC and BCC. For example:

  • TO: The primary recipients who need to read and action your email.
  • CC: Secondary recipients who should be aware of the email however no action is required from them. Simply put, they are listed as an FYI.
  • BCC: Many use this as a “cover your arse” technique however I use it for a special purpose. I move people from TO/CC to BCC as a powerful signal to reduce email SPAM. This approach requires clear communication to everyone on that email. Therefore, before sending a “reply to all” response, I move all the redundant recipients from TO/CC to BCC and communicate that change accordingly. That way BCC recipients won’t continue to be spammed with copious amounts of “reply to all” emails that are not relevant to them anymore.
  • You should always re-categorise email recipients with each and every reply you send. One recipient may have been on the TO field on the original email however as part of your response should now be CC’d. Similarly, you may need someone to action a point in your email then move them from CC to the TO field. Pay it forward and always re-categorise recipients before sending your response. It ultimately saves time for everybody.

The last aspects to note with BCC is its use for privacy and GDPR related communications. If you’re sending a mail-out email, then use BCC.

Reduce email comms by 50%?

This is a bold statement, however, please humour me! When writing emails, I encourage you to anticipate the response of the recipients in the TO field. Said differently you can potentially reduce sending two emails to just one by asking an anticipatory question. Let me give you an example:

Original Email Approach:

Email 1 (Sender): Hi, can you meet up for a meeting next week to discuss Project A?

Email 2 (Responder): Yes, I can meet next week to discuss Project A. When are you thinking of meeting?

Email 3 (Original Sender): Great, how about Monday at 4pm for 30 minutes?

Email 4 (Original Responder): Sure, let’s do that time. Please send a meeting request for us to connect.

Email 5 (Original Sender): No problem, it’s on its way.

That’s 5 emails to agree on a meeting to discuss Project A. Is there a better way? Using the words “If so” or “if not” are powerful ways of reducing email by at least 50%.

Here is the above example revised using this technique….

Revised Email Approach:

Email 1 (Sender): Hi, can you meet up for a meeting next week to discuss Project A? If so, can you meet on Monday at 4pm for 30 minutes? Let me know and I’ll schedule a meeting.

Email 2 (Responder): Sure, I’m available on Monday and can do 4pm. Looking forward to receiving the meeting request.

Result?

The revised approach halved the emails as the sender is writing the email anticipating the response. Not all email communication is this simple, however, wherever possible use this anticipation technique rather than getting stuck in a game of email tennis.

Let’s all use the general rules of netiquette and try out the other ideas as well. It will improve our online communication and save us a lot of time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brad Revell is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org