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How to be plugged in without being rude

By Katie McElveen-Real Simple Magazine – 04/08/2009 – 12:40am

You run into someone you know while listening to your iPod. Do you need to remove both earbuds to talk to her?

Jodi R. R. Smith, author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman ($10,  If you’re having more than a two-minute conversation, then, yes, both buds need to come out―whether you turn off the device or not. And that goes for your Bluetooth earpiece, too.
Joni Blecher, editorial director of Yes. People want to know that the person they’re talking to is really paying attention to them.

Sue Fox, founder and president of and author of Etiquette For DummiesRemember―etiquette is all about making the other person more comfortable. How comfortable could your friend be trying to talk to you when you’ve got something in your ears?

Is it rude to check your PDA at a friend’s house?

Blecher: A little bit. But if you arrive at a friend’s home and explain that you need to check a few e-mails before you visit so you can give her your full attention, she will probably understand.

Smith: It depends on how you’re using it. If you’re checking on something relevant to your visit, then no. If you find yourself perusing other e-mails, you will send the message that you’re bored.
Will Schwalbe, coauthor of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better ($14,  Think of your PDA as a crossword puzzle. Anywhere it’s acceptable to work on a crossword puzzle, it’s OK to check your PDA.

How quickly must you respond to an e-mail? Are the standards different for work e-mails versus personal e-mails?

Schwalbe: It’s all about consistency. If you’re going to deviate from what you usually do, use your out-of-office assistant or automatic-response setting to let people know why they might not be hearing from you as quickly as they’re used to. You don’t want them to think they’ve insulted you somehow or that you are ignoring them.

Judith Kallos, oversees Not responding quickly―within hours and certainly by the end of the day―to any e-mail might make the other side feel as though she’s being overlooked. It’s particularly important to respond promptly to business e-mails because that is professional and courteous.

Anna Post, technology-etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute: The sooner you can reply properly, the better. Never leave someone hanging.

If someone calls you, can you e-mail the person back or send a text message? What if you text or e-mail someone and the person calls you back?

Pier M. Forni, author of The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude ($9.50,  Unless the person has requested something specific or you sense a tinge of urgency, there’s nothing uncivil about replying with a “Can we talk later?” text message.

Schwalbe: Think about what is the best way to respond. If someone called you to get directions somewhere, for instance, reply via e-mail so you can send along a map.

Blecher: If you text someone because you don’t want to talk and the person calls back, don’t answer. If you do answer, the other person will sense your foul mood immediately and might get offended. Just text back that you can’t talk now but will call later. Your friend will thank you.

Is using BCC (blind carbon copy) on an e-mail sneaky?

Schwalbe: Yes, and it’s dangerous too, because your BCC can be exposed if the blind recipient hits Reply All or forwards the e-mail to someone else. To protect yourself from this, forward the message separately with an explanation.

Kallos: Using it to make someone look bad or e-tattle on someone is not appropriate. BCC is best used to protect your contacts’ e-mail addresses from being exposed to strangers.

Smith: BCC can be sneaky but also useful. If you feel that an e-mail discussion you had could turn into a larger issue, you could BCC your boss to make her aware of the situation. Just don’t inundate her with copies of every e-mail you send.

Is it OK to talk on your cell phone when you’re ordering food, getting your hair, banking, etc.?

Blecher: It’s rude to talk on the phone when you’re interacting with others―no matter who they are.

Post: No. And don’t forget about the people around you―they will hear your conversation.
Smith: You should treat everyone with common decency and respect. So don’t do it to anyone.

How do you end a time-consuming e-mail exchange?

Schwalbe: When the pings back and forth have gone to one word, that means the conversation is over. If you’re getting too many e-mails, it might mean you’re sending too many.

Smith: If it’s a good friend, tell her it’s been great chitchatting but you have to go. If it’s a client who is a friend, tell her you have to get back to work but would love to catch up when you see her next.

Forni: First remind yourself that your time is just that―yours. Then say, for example, “Linda, I would love to chat, but I have back-to-back meetings today and need to get to work.”

You Google someone you’re about to meet for the first time. Is it gauche to bring up what you learned about her?

Schwalbe: If you can compliment someone on an award or a promotion, it shows you’ve done your homework. But bringing up personal information could be stalkerish. With dating, I think people expect you to Google them before a first date.

Smith: Finding something out about that person that would have been printed recently in the paper―a new client, say―is OK to mention. Anything more, like where she went to high school, gets creepy.

Fox: Ask yourself what you would feel comfortable with someone knowing about you. Good news, such as a marriage, is generally OK, but be sure the information is up-to-date―within the last six months―and relevant to the conversation. And if you really had to dig to get the information, you might not want to mention it.

Are emoticons appropriate to use in office e-mails?

Kallos: Yes, when used sparingly and with discretion. I sometimes use them to soften the blow with coworkers when I’m making a strong suggestion or a correction and things need to be lightened up.

Schwalbe: I love ’em. They’re a quick and easy way to add a friendly tone, but remember―they won’t take the barb out of an insult. In business, though, use them only with people you know well and never in a first overture.

Smith: If the other person is using them, go ahead. Unless you know the person well, it’s best not to be the first.

Is it OK to omit a salutation and a closing in a business e-mail?

Kallos: No. You will be viewed as abrupt and even rude. You don’t call someone on the phone, start talking, and hang up without saying good-bye.

Schwalbe: They’re OK to omit after a first e-mail if you’re going back and forth with short messages.

Smith: Business e-mails often get printed and distributed to people who may not know you and what you do, so you should include your full name, title, company, and contact information as part of your signature.

You accidentally forwarded an e-mail to a friend in which you (scroll down) bad-mouthed her partner. What do you do?

Smith: E-mail is fraught with peril. Immediately call her, tell her you sent an e-mail you shouldn’t have sent, and beg for forgiveness.

Kallos: You need to call her to tell her how sorry you are. It won’t be easy, but picking up the phone is the right thing to do. And remember that using technology well is all in the details. Before you hit Send, take a second look at what you’re sending to whom.

Post: Trying to justify or explain the hurtful things you said will only make it worse. Apologize and then ask if there is anything else you can do to make things right.

Is it okay to text-message or e-mail big news (a new job, a pregnancy)?

Smith: Since those closest to us aren’t always nearby, and getting everyone together at once can be a challenge, an e-mail is fine for good news. Say something like “I normally would tell you in person, but I wanted to let you all know at the same time that I’m expecting!”

Kallos: You can share good news like this with friends, but I wouldn’t e-mail my mom that I was engaged!

Post: It depends on your audience. A good rule of thumb is that if these are people you usually communicate with via e-mail, it’s OK.

You feel a friend is embarrassing herself by giving away too much personal information on her blog. How do you tell her?

Smith: Say that you love her blog but since some readers don’t know her as well as you do, they may misinterpret what she’s saying. If she gets defensive, back off. But if the information on her blog is creating a safety issue―like she could be attracting a stalker―you’re morally obligated to tell her.

Schwalbe: I’d pose it as a question, such as “How do you decide what’s too personal for your blog?” That gives her the opportunity to proclaim a philosophy (in which case, it’s her business) or to admit that she doesn’t have one. In that instance, your input might be welcomed.

Fox: Unsolicited advice is hard to give, but it is necessary to speak up in a situation like this. Before giving specific examples of content you find troublesome for her professional or personal life, make it clear that you are saying something only out of concern and not judging her.

Can you ignore someone who “friends” you?

Post: Yes. Giving someone you don’t entirely trust access to personal information is a safety issue.
Blecher: If people in your network can post and view photos and funny comments about you, it’s best to restrict access to people who are truly your friends.

Smith: Of course! If it’s someone you see too frequently to just ignore the request, simply tell her that you try to keep a low profile on networking sites and leave it at that.

Should you always accept a request from a colleague on a professional-networking site?

Post: It really depends on how well you know the person who is making the request. Your profile is a snapshot of your professional image, so your online connections should only ever be advantageous to your career.

Blecher: Not necessarily. The person who is asking should know you well enough to have a sense of whether you would want to join her network or not before she sends the invitation. If she doesn’t know you but wants to, she shouldn’t blindly try to connect over one of these networks. She should ask a mutual contact to introduce you either by separate e-mail or in person.

Smith: Since accepting may provide information about you and all your contacts to anyone in the other person’s network (and their contacts, etc.), it’s better to leave the request perpetually pending.

Is there a polite way to use call waiting?

Post: It depends on whom you’re talking to. Your grandmother might mind if you use it, but a friend would probably be OK with it. If you do need to take the call, excuse yourself, then immediately tell the second person that you’ve got someone waiting on the other line and need to get back to him.

Forni: There is. If you’re on a social call and there is a chance you’ll be interrupted by a client or a coworker, and especially your boss, tell your friend at the beginning of the conversation that if you get another call, you’ll need to take it.

Fox: Make your decision based on whom you’re speaking with. Conversely, if you’re the first caller and you’re left hanging for too long, hang up. Your time is important, too.

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