Woman at computer with look of consternation

The email, text, and social blunders that make you look like a jerk

Elizabeth Bromstein|

So much digital communication is weirdly rude.

People tend to forget their manners when sending emails or interacting through social media, because it’s a step removed from face to face interaction, for which we (usually) follow a standard set of etiquette rules. No one would excitedly call a person into a meeting and shout, “Hey, Elizabeth! I just want to inform you that you have 60 days before we’re terminating your contract!!!” And yet, that’s pretty much the message I once received in an email. (That company has since taken a turn downhill, for obvious reasons.)

Similarly, you wouldn’t call up a stranger you want to connect with, or walk up to that person at a party, and say, “Hey, Bob. I’d like to sit down with you over lunch and discuss my career options. Please suggest some times that work for you to meet.”

But we tend to treat typed communication as more of a free for all.

Well, we shouldn’t. The impression you make on social media, and in texts and emails still matters. You’re still making one, and people are still reacting to you, even if you can’t see it in real time and they don’t tell you so. And, now that a great deal – often the majority – of communication takes place in the digital realm, it’s extremely important to be aware of how you’re coming across. It can make or break your future, both social and professional.

So, because we’re here to help, here are the most common blunders people make in digital communication. Don’t do these things. People hate them.

Being overly familiar: I personally get super irritated when people I have never met start emails with “Hey, Elizabeth!” (Take note PR people: starting your email this way is a surefire way to guarantee I’m not reading it). When reaching out to a stranger, or any connection who is not your good friend, be respectful. You can easily blow your impression with an overly casual approach, but are far less likely to do so with a respectful “Dear So and So.”

Giving away people’s contact information: For the love of all that is good in this world, use the BCC on mass emails. If you’re contacting a lot of people, don’t let everyone see everyone else’s email addresses. Use the BCC option and send it to yourself in the to: line.

Using the automatic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message:. I’m guilty of doing this regularly, but it’s apparently a pet peeve of business execs everywhere. Tailor your LinkedIn network requests to the specific person to whom you’re reaching out. In fairness to all of us, this feature could use some work. If you can’t list where you worked with someone, you have to say they’re your “friend,” which we all do as a workaround – the point is to connect with people, after all – but which is dishonest and stupid.

Being argumentative or insulting on social media: I have a couple of Facebook friends who were constantly picking fights on my timeline – with me, with my friends – sometimes going so far as to call people names, so I’ve blocked them from seeing my updates (the politics of unfriending them would be too complex). They’re always schooling people in how things are, and they make everything political. They call themselves “opinionated.” The rest of us call them “jerks.” The thing is, they’d never be so rude in person. Behave like you would at a real-life social gathering. Always. Unless you would behave like this in a real-life social setting, in which case, cut it out.

Asking people you don’t know to do things in a first contact: “Please confirm receipt of this email,” “Please let me know some times when you would be available to meet…” Are you kidding? Who do you think you are? People are busy. Unfortunately, you will just have to live with the uncertainty of whether or not your email was received. And, if you want to set up a meeting, ask first if the person is open to it. You can pursue it in the next communication.

Not replying: The counter-argument to the above statement about asking people to confirm receipt is that everyone should reply to emails whenever possible, even if just to say they got them. A friend points out that she gets 450 emails a day and can’t possibly be expected to respond to every request for her comments or every student looking for an internship. She’d never get her job done. But if you are on the receiving end of an email from someone looking for work, help, or comments, please try to remember that your response means a lot to them. I have to send out a lot of cold emails in my work and am always shocked at the number of people who don’t bother to reply. I keep a mental list, so if they need something one day, I’ll be sure to ignore them too.

Sending out auto DMs: This is my latest pet peeve: people who send out automatic messages when I follow them on Twitter. “Nice to connect! Thanks for the follow!” may seem like a nice way to start the relationship, but it clogs my inbox and, because it’s automatic, is actually kind of rude. Even worse are those who send these messages with “Be sure to like me on Facebook too!” or “Buy my book!” in there. Seriously? Don’t be so pushy. All I did was hit the “follow” button and I am already regretting it. Calm down.

Contacting people about whom you know nothing: I get PR emails all the time from people who obviously have no idea what I do. “I want to tell you about an exciting new fitness regimen with a bridal angle!” I have no idea if they worked out in wedding dresses, or what. I stopped reading right there. If you know anything about me, you’d know this isn’t something I would write about. Don’t pitch your cake decorating idea to an electrical engineering company. Or whatever.

Sending or posting angry missives in the heat of the moment: They say to wait 24 hours before sending an angry email. I say wait 48, or, even better, the rest of your life. Do the same for angry responses to tweets, comments, Facebook posts, texts, and pretty much everything else. Read what you write before hitting send, take a breath, and ask yourself, “Do I want this to exist forever?”

Because that’s the reality of digital communication. Once you hit send, you can almost never take it back. Even if you delete something from your own Facebook timeline or twitter feed, someone could have a screenshot.

Be polite, be brief, get to the point, don’t be a know-it-all, use a polite sign off. Don’t make the above mistakes and you should be fine.

Above all, think before you hit “send.”

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