The internet is a great thing, but it comes with many dangers, and too often we've heard of and read about professionals committing what amounts to professional suicide online. We aren't just referring to professionals in our line of work, but in any other.
This can come in a variety of shapes and forms, including leaking confidential information, writing mean things about clients, colleagues, and vendors, spreading rumors, etc. It can seem very easy to vent on Twitter, Facebook, listservs, LinkedIn groups or any other public (or even protected) forum, but our short piece of advice here is: don't do it. Resist the temptation to make anything public that you might regret later. We don't want to scare you at all, but here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to netiquette. Remember that your reputation is one of the only things you have. Let's delve into some more specifics here:
- It is completely normal to be mad/annoyed/incredibly ticked off once in a while. It happens to us, too. However, as tempting as it may be, the internet is not the place to air your grievances, especially if you are going to be naming names. There are, as always, no black and white rules, but while we think it's of course completely acceptable to tweet that you are exhausted and not having a great day, we'd say it's not acceptable to say you are exhausted because annoying client XYZ won't stop bombarding you with e-mails. Without clients, you have nothing, so be careful what you say about them. We generally don't ever have anything negative to say about our lovely clients, but if and when we do, we discuss this in person with each other or our inside circle.
- Use the newspaper rule. If it could potentially make you unhappy to see anything you are about to type in next morning's newspaper, then don't do it. If you hesitate about whether you should post something, don't do it.
- Think twice before sending an angry e-mail. Invasion of privacy and computer hacking issues aside, e-mail can be viewed as a somewhat private form of communication. However, e-mails can be forwarded and shared, and while it's tempting to fire off a snarky response to an e-mail, we suggest thinking twice before hitting the send button. Better yet: have someone you trust read your e-mail to make sure it's acceptable. While it's entirely possible that the person who sent you the e-mail is rude and unreasonable, you don't need to respond the same way. Being nice is always better.
- Stay away from gossip. We don't see any good reason to gossip about others. Nothing good ever comes out of talking badly about others. A good rule would be: if you don't have anything good to say about someone, just be quiet and try to surround yourself with positive people.
- The beauty and danger of listservs. We truly love the listservs of the many professional associations we belong to, but they can also be a minefield. E-mail certainly isn't the best form of communication, especially when there's conflict, so we avoid getting into any sort of argument via e-mail. These lists are meant to be a positive place to exchange ideas and to solve linguistic puzzles, and everyone tends to be very, very helpful. However, once in a while 1,000+ people have to witness a personal spat between two members, and that's not a great idea. There's never any reason to air any grievances on a forum that thousands of people can read. Our tip: if you have a dispute with a colleague, take him or her to coffee and talk about it privately. If you don't live in the same city, set up a phone call. It's sad to see that some users have to get banned from listservs because they cannot stick to the netiquette rules, and unfortunately, others remember very clearly who they are.
- Go for a walk. Again, we all get angry and annoyed. Customers and even colleagues can be unreasonable and treat you poorly, which is a fact of life. Before you make your next move, clear your head, go for a walk and ask yourself: "Will this matter a year from now?" It probably won't. Pet a friendly dog while you are out on that walk and remind yourself that no matter how tough business can be, working for yourself is truly marvelous.
What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any other recommendations on this important topic? What's the behavior that should be avoided? We look forward to your comments.