I’ve noticed that communication etiquette has broken down in recent years. If someone leaves you a voice mail, sends you a text message, or sends you an email, proper etiquette dictates that you respond when you have a chance. However, I’ve noticed that people have just stopped responding to day-to-day communication.
I recently invited my brother to watch a game with me at a local bar we frequent. This is what I sent him: “Do you want watch the game and get something to eat around 7:30?” About three hours later I gave him a call to follow up, and he did not answer or respond.
The next day he called me and I asked why he did not respond to my text message. He said, “I was tired.” This was a perfectly reasonable excuse but due to his poor etiquette I sat around waiting when I could have made other plans with different friends. This behavior is just as rude as if I had walked up to him and asked him a question and he turned and walked away.
This lack of communication etiquette is very common when you are meeting new people. I was at a bar and asked a girl for her number and she gave it to me. Later that night we exchanged jokes via text message. The next day I sent her a text message with an inquiry about something we had discussed earlier. She did not respond.
I get the obvious message; most likely she did not want me to ask her out. If that was the case, the polite thing to do would have been to respond to my inquiry and, if I asked her out (which I would have), to say something like: “I’m taking it easy tonight. I will call you when I have some free time.”
This gives her all the responsibility of contacting me, and I do not have an invitation to contact her again. If I were to contact her again, she would then have every right not to respond to me because she made the situation perfectly clear.
This lack of etiquette was standard in college. I took a girl out on three dates and she was great: funny, smart, and drop-dead gorgeous. However, I discovered after our third date that she was also a total stage-five clinger and became virtually psychotic when she drinks. She got very drunk and called me repeatedly within the hour; and when I called her back she cried, asked me why I hated her, told me she loved me (remember this person is basically a stranger) and then threatened to kill me when I didn’t tell her I loved her back. Later that evening, around 2:00 a.m., she came to my home uninvited and, when she discovered no one was home, woke up my neighbors, sat in their living room, and told them a contrived and bizarre story about our “relationship.”
When I discovered this, I called her and politely said: “I have enjoyed dating you but this is not working out.” I then wished her the best, refused to argue with her, and hung up. Simple and direct, and proper etiquette.
The epidemic of poor etiquette has bled into business as well. There was a billing dispute between my company and the telephone company, and the representative agreed to credit my account with some rollover minutes. Subsequently, when I was billed without the rollover minutes, I sent the representative the following emails:
Email #1: Thank you so much for all of your help. What is the status of returning those rollover minutes to our account? We were billed without the credit.
Email #2: My invoice this month (attached) is over $6,000 and we have still not resolved the billing issue from last month. I have appreciated your help so far; please write me back or call so we can resolve this matter.
Email #3: Below is the email I sent you on 2/1/2012 to which you have not responded. I still would like you to credit me with the rollover minutes that were taken from me last month.
Clearly this account manager does not want to credit my account with the rollover minutes. Fine, don’t credit the account – but why can’t she just explain it as a business transaction? It has been over three months and the issue has not been resolved. The money remains in limbo. This is money I could be using to advertise, invest, pay other bills, and grow my business.
The worst case of faulty communication etiquette that I have experienced was when a large group of friends made plans to go to skiing. I made plans with an acquaintance to carpool, but he did not arrive at the time we had arranged. I called and sent him a text message. Some hours passed, and I called his girlfriend who told me that he had left the previous day.
I had my bags packed, and this was a terrible inconvenience which could have been easily resolved with a simple communication. I fear that we are living in a world where this lack of responsibility is more and more acceptable. When I see him, I’m still perfectly polite and we and have never addressed what happened, to avoid an awkward conversation. In his eyes, he is forgiven or his actions are acceptable; I have not forgiven him by any means.
Allow me to offer some coaching for the next time you get a text message and are tempted to ignore it. It’s simple: Tell the truth and do it politely as possible.
Yes, you really can have proper etiquette without wanting to hang out with someone. Everyone will appreciate your consideration, respectfulness, and honesty. It’s worth the trouble.
Gabe Dominocielo is executive director of Represent You, a State Bar of California certified lawyer referral service. He is also a member of the Santa Barbara Civil Service Commission and the Santa Barbara Living Wage Committee, and he serves on the Board of Directors at the Adelle Davis Foundation.