accounts-blur-button-267350Back in the day, good manners were easy to figure out. “Don’t interrupt.” “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” “Say “please” and “thank you.”” “Offer folks something to drink when they come into your home.”

The benefits of using good manners were numerous. Your personal relationships had less friction because you treated others with courtesy. You had greater professional opportunities because people with good manners are perceived as being more educated and capable.

Those old-fashioned manners still apply today when we interact with others on a face-to-face basis. But in this digital age, we also interact with others through email, text message, and social media. The challenge is that these forms of communication are relatively new.  As a result, we haven’t yet defined good manners for the digital arena.

The good news is that manners in the digital age are very similar to our old-fashioned manners. Manners always have been about treating others with courtesy. Good manners are about being kind and generous toward others at every opportunity. They are about making others feel welcome and accepted.

Below are some ways to apply to our old-fashioned manners to our digital interactions.

Respond Quickly: The digital age is a double-edged sword when it comes to manners. On the one hand, digital communication is very efficient. It allows us to immediately respond to others. If someone sends me a text, I literally can respond within 30 seconds, and my effort in doing so is minimal. If someone sends me an email, I can shoot back a response fairly quickly as well. I certainly don’t need more than a couple of hours to respond to an email, even if it requires an involved answer.

The problem is that we all know how easy digital communication is. We all know how little effort it takes to send a text or email. So, if you don’t respond to a text or email, you offend people. That is because the message you are sending is this: I can’t be bothered to even spend 30 seconds communicating with you.

Good manners require that we respond to emails and texts within a short period of time. Now you don’t have respond to everything. For instance, if you are included in a group email, and the sender isn’t seeking a direct response from you, responding is optional. And if someone sends you an email that is rude, the best choice is to not respond! Better to ignore it.

All of that seems obvious to me. But I am from Generation X, and we were raised the old-fashioned way. Be polite no matter what. Be respectful of those who are older than you. Et cetera. So, if anyone who is older than me sends me an email, I respond quickly and politely!

I also treat people younger than me with the same good manners. That is because my good manners aren’t dictated by who the recipient is. My good manners are dictated by who I am, and I aspire to be someone with proper manners.

So, respond to emails and text messages as soon as you receive them. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort. But in doing so, you will show that you are someone of class and good manners.

Be Kind: Obviously, we should speak to people kindly, both in person and via text message and email. But the bigger issue in this digital age is how we speak about other people. If you speak cruelly about someone on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, that doesn’t tell me anything about that person. But it does tell me a whole lot about you.

For instance, my daughter sent me this quote that she saw on Instagram: “Why do all people over the age of 40 have that phone case that opens like a book” (No question mark at the end. I suppose it is inferred.).

I will admit that the quote gave me a chuckle (I am over 40, and I have the phone case that opens like a book!). But the comment really tells me more about the writer. And what I know from that comment is that the writer is likely young, immature, and a little bit mean spirited.

When it comes to making public comments on the Internet (or even private comments by email or text), the best rule of thumb is this: Your humor should only be self-deprecating. As soon as you start making fun of other people or start being critical of other people, you tread on very thin ice.

It is hard to make unkind comments about other people without seeming like a jerk. Anytime I see critical comments about others on the Internet, I feel uncomfortable. And it isn’t because I think that the comments are correct. It is because the person making the comments is embarrassing themselves. They are being publicly crass or unkind, and they are letting the reader know that they are emotionally immature.

So, having good manners in the digital age requires us to be careful when we criticize others. Not only do you want to avoid hurting other people’s feelings, but you don’t your comments to reflect poorly on you. Childish or mean-spirited comments quickly can lead others to believe that you lack professionalism, polish and maturity. That isn’t how you want to be perceived.  So, the best rule for Internet communication is this: Be Kind.

Not Every Communication Should Be Digital: I know this may sound like blasphemy, but sometimes you just have to pick up the phone and call someone. Not every communication can be handled by a text or email.

For instance, if you have parents or grandparents of a certain age, you have to call them. You can’t email or text them and sustain a relationship with them, as you would with one of your peers. That isn’t how older people operate.

And you can’t expect elderly people to embrace technology and get on “your level.” They are older than you, so that isn’t their job. It is your job to get on “their level,” and that means picking up the phone and calling them. Or paying them an old-fashioned visit (call first!), if you live nearby.

Similarly, most friendships require some in person contact. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. For the past twenty years, I have had an almost exclusively email and text friendship with a friend of mine from high school. For the past two decades, he and I have communicated by email and text on a daily basis. We have supported each other through relocations, marriages, divorces and child rearing. He has encouraged me through some of my darkest hours, and I hope that I have done the same for him.

But that friendship is a very unique situation. Most of the time, you actually have to see your friends. That means inviting them over for dinner or meeting them for a cup of tea. A dear friend of mine from church and I meet every two months at our local coffee house. That one-hour cup of coffee solidifies our friendship in a way that emails and texts (and the occasional short chat after Sunday morning service) simply cannot.

This week, think about your digital communications. Are you using the best manners possible? We all want to have great relationships with other people. So, take care with how you treat people.  And no matter how you communicate, do it with respect and kindness toward others.

(Photo Courtesy of Pexels)


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