Are Common Courtesy and Good Manners No Longer in Vogue with the Growing Ubiquity of Technology?


No one is more insufferable than he who lacks basic courtesy. –Bryant H. McGill

Have you ever sent an email to a colleague without receiving an acknowledgment that the email was received? Have you posted a kind comment in one of the various social media forums about someone and never received a “Thank you” from the individual? Of course, there is a chance that the individual never saw your comment, but what if the comment was seen and she or he still did not thank you? Have you ever attended a meeting at work where all the participants brought their laptops or smart devices, and they spent the majority of the meeting doing other work? Likewise, have you attended a meeting via audio conference where most of the people in attendance were obviously multitasking and not actually paying attention to the discussion? In this case, the tell-tale sign that someone is not paying attention is when they do not respond when asked a question. So, the question is asked again, and the person eventually replies, “I’m sorry, I was on mute.”


It appears that common courtesy and manners have started to wane, especially as society increases its use of technology. In many regards, technology has certainly made our lives better and simpler. We can communicate with a plethora of people around the world just as easy as communicating with a neighbor two houses away. We can access almost any information at any time through our smart devices and the internet. The technology today is truly remarkable; however, is there an inverse proportional relationship between the increase in the availability of technology and common courtesy or good manners?


In my experience, the more technology we have at our disposal, the ruder we become. Even though technology has become nearly ubiquitous today, it does not mean that it is all right to be discourteous to our fellow humans. Common courtesy and good manners are what allow us to be humane to each other in an ever-expanding low-touch, high-technology society. Imagine how you would feel if someone stopped you in the hallway at work and said, “Thank you for the nice comment you made about my work on our company’s internal social networking forum.”


Some people view a conversation using technology differently than an in-person interaction. Some of us write things in email, instant message or text that we would never say to someone in person. Given the ease of using technology to communicate, many people are becoming oblivious to how their electronic communication makes the recipient feel. According to a recent collaborative study by CPP, Inc., and the company Sendmail, 43% of employees view email as the main source of irritation in the workplace. Similarly, 32% blame texting for their workplace woes, 9% blame social networking, another 9% blame the phone, and 7% see instant message as the main culprit. Email emerged as the top cause of workplace frustrations for the following reasons:

  • No, or very slow email responses
  • Confusing, unclear and misinterpreted emails
  • Emails sent to a large distribution of people and recipients using “Reply All” to their replies
  • Long or too many emails
  • Request for more detail
  • Poor grammar


Assuming the validity of the study is correct, the growing use of technology for communication clearly is causing some angst in the workplace and in general. However, we probably all agree that no matter how much technology is used, civility should be the rule rather than the exception. Here are a few things that we can do to ensure that we use common courtesy and good manners when using technology to communicate:

  • Be aware of your surroundings

If you are in a meeting, movie theater, restaurant or any place where you are speaking with three or more individuals, turn off of your technology or at least put your smart devices in vibrate mode. If you must talk on your mobile phone when others are near, use earphones or headphones with a microphone to minimize disturbing others around you.

  • Be responsive

Try to be responsive to emails sent directly to you. A good rule of thumb is to respond to emails within twenty-four hours where applicable. If you cannot respond within this period of time, at least send an acknowledgment to the sender that their email was received and include a timeframe in which you will respond. Note that this suggestion pertains to replying to people whom you know or where it is applicable in general. For instance, if the email is from solicitors, then not replying may be the appropriate action.

  • Keep it brief and to the point

Keep the length of emails, instant messages, text, and phone calls as brief and to the point as possible.

  • Say “Thank you” often

Never underestimate the value of saying “Thank you” in all forms of communication.

  • Use “blind copy” when sending emails to large distributions

When there is a need to send emails to a large distribution of individuals, try putting the recipients in the “Bcc” field rather than the “To” field. If one or more of the recipients use Reply All when responding, the response will only go to you as the sender. However, if you use the “Bcc” option, it is useful to put a note at the beginning of your email identifying the general audience for the message. For example, when I send an email to my entire group, I put the individuals in the “Bcc” field, and I start my email with a note stating that this email is sent to everyone in the Information Technology organization. This way, the recipients know in general who is receiving the email.

  • If it can be said in person, do so

If you can ask your question or deliver your message to recipients in person, then it is best to do so. For example, if you have a question for one of your co-workers sitting in the cubicle next to you, try asking the question in person rather than using email, text, instant message or phone. Only use technology if there is a need to keep a record of the conversation or you are sitting in a quiet area and do not want to disturb others sitting nearby.

There are many other actions that can be taken to be courteous; however, the most beneficial action is to start by recognizing that we should be as polite as possible no matter which vehicle we use to communicate with each other.


Dr. Milton Mattox is an Executive Coach, CEO Peer Group Facilitator, Motivational Speaker, Author and Technologist who has worked with some of the world’s most acclaimed companies. An authority in helping CEOs overcome everyday business challenges to achieve the success that they seek, career coach and expert in “all things technology-based,” he continues to practice the leadership techniques and methodologies outlined in his books and articles to successfully increase return on investment for companies, organizations, and individuals seeking to be all that they desire to be in life.