Manner Monday: Expectations and Electronic Etiquette

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How many times have you said to yourself, “I just don’t get those millennials and/or baby boomers” when it comes to their use or misuse of electronic etiquette?

Just as business, social and dining etiquette all have many layers, so does electronic etiquette, including email etiquette, typing in ALL CAPS, voicemail messages, voicemail greetings, and inappropriate social media sharing. And more than likely you’ve heard many spiels on the basic premise of electronic etiquette: giving the person in front of you 100% of your attention. We get it. The difficulty in navigating electronic etiquette lies in managing the expectations of those participating in the exchange.

There is a lot of criticism afoot about millenials and how they hide behind their electronics and while there is some truth to that, we have to own up to the fact that some of their behavior stems from the expectation that we (parents, bosses, colleagues) place upon them to immediately respond to a request. Email and text messaging is designed to be asynchronistic, but our expectations have grown into the anticipation of a real time exchange.

I was recently talking with a high-powered law firm partner in Chicago who summed up the quandary very aptly. When he’s in a meeting with one of his associates, he expects their full attention. However, when that same associate is in another meeting with another partner, who also expects their full attention, he gets frustrated when he doesn’t get an immediate response. He also acknowledged that if, back-in-the-day, he were to walk by the conference room and see them in a meeting, he of course would not expect an immediate response. But in the virtual world that we now live and do business, it’s very easy to forget that no matter how plugged-in we are, we can only be in one place at one time. No matter how well we think we can multitask.

We’re putting millennials in the impossible position of giving their full attention and respect to the person in front of them, but yet getting frustrated with their inattention to our electronic requests. We think they’re being disrespectful when they sneak a peak at their device in front of us, yet we’ve been grooming them to respond to our requests immediately.

We’ve become a society of individuals where, “we want what we want, when we want it, and we want it now” has become the status quo. Basic email etiquette allows for a 24-48 hour window of response. How have we come to expect an immediate response from interoffice associates? We have high expectations; we’re asking a lot from our colleagues. Is there a happy medium? Is it an us or them question? Or, are our expectations even realistic?

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