As per our conversation
There’s a section on Boston.com that has a regular column on business etiquette by Peter Post.
Mr. Post is not some Peter-come-lately to the post of etiquette maven, by the way. He is the great-grandson of Emily Post and the director of the Emily Post Institute, which, if I read the employee list correctly, is pretty much the family business.
And why not? Emily Post was not just a society doyenne, she wrote the book on etiquette way back when people were actually polite – or so we are led to believe – and who famously said:
"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."
Which was actually pretty darned generous on her part, given that she was certainly raised knowing the difference between the salad fork and the fish fork.
(As a side note, if you’re going to be involved in a family business, it might as well be one that’s all about being polite.)
By the way, the Emily Post Institute keeps up with the times, and questions about fish forks have been replaced by online dating etiquette and advice on whether it’s okay for your teenage son to wear boxer shorts to the dinner table. They also have a sub-specialty in business etiquette. Hence Peter Post’s business etiquette Dear Abby.
A recent question came from J. Lo, Farmington, CT, who is irritated by:
…outgoing work voice mail messages [that say], “I will call you back at my earliest convenience.” It rubs me the wrong way. I think the intention is to convey “as soon as I can.”
J.L. goes on to ask whether he/she’s being persnickety.
Mr. Post replied that, in his view, J.L. is being a tad bit persnickety in the sense that J.L. is focusing a tad bit too much on small details. (I was going to write “sweating the small stuff”, but I don’t believe the Posts sweat.) Further, Mr. Post acknowledges that:
“At my earliest convenience” probably isn’t the best word choice. I think you are right that it conveys a message of “when I’m ready regardless of your needs.”
He then goes on to caution that J.L. would be best served by ignoring this little bit of workplace idiocy (not that Mr. Post used the words “workplace idiocy”), and not start carping about petty annoyances that might gain one the reputation as “’the Complainer.’”
When it happens next, and it will, it’s okay to be frustrated. Just remember it’s also okay to let it go.
Mr. Post is, of course, correct to advise J.L. “to let it go.” That is the path to mental, if not office, health.
Still, I have complete and utter sympathy for J.L. on this one.
The purpose of any communication is (duh) to communicate something clearly and effectively, and this voice mail message – which I have ear-witnessed a few times myself – does nothing other than brand the person using it as someone who is not especially adept at communication. Who, in fact, may not have all that much of a grasp on the English language. Who, in fact, sounds none to bright.
Yet it is, of course, not the best thing in the world to point out to someone that their outgoing voice message is idiotic. Not to mention, I suspect, contagious. The first person to create this message was doing something not especially bright. The second person to adopt it was no doubt imitating what he/she thought was a pretty good, business-standard greeting. And so one, and so forth, until we’re all down the communications rabbit-hole. Wheeee!!!!.
If I were J.L., I would drop a suggestion in the HR suggestion box, proposing that they get a note out to employees about what constitutes a reasonable greeting. No matter how humorously it’s written, this note from HR will, no doubt, be widely scorned. But if it gets just one voice-mail miscreant to change his or her message from something stupid to something reasonable, well…
Then we can tackle another communications pet peeve of mine. I.e., beginning an e-mail, note or memo with:
As per our conversation…
I know, I know, it’s nothing to do with business etiquette.
But it does have to do with clear and effective communication, and, whenever I see it, I automatically think, o-oh, here comes a note that’s going to be painful to read. And most of the time it is.
By the way, I’ll be blogging about this at my earliest convenience. As per a note I just made to myself.