Sticky Business Etiquette Questions & Answers

Occasionally we all come across situations in which we wonder, "Would Miss Manners approve?" But in the digital age of social networking, the etiquette lines can become even blurrier. Following are some common sticky business etiquette questions and tips to help tackle them:

Social media

Should I personalize my LinkedIn requests to connect with others?

It's perfectly fine to use the form letter, and, in fact, most people do it for convenience, even when connecting with close contacts. But if you wish to connect to someone you haven't seen in a while, take the time to personalize the message and explain how you've met.

How do I keep my manager from getting wind of my job search using LinkedIn?

If you consistently have a voice, share opinions and articles, and tend to your audience and your network as a daily routine — and not just when you're looking for work — then when it's time to find that next career opportunity, none of your activity will look out of the ordinary. But it's not smart to immediately update your LinkedIn profile by adding a large number of new contacts, fleshing out your profile and soliciting recommendations. Adjust your settings so you don't broadcast activity you're not willing to share. Pay particular attention to the "Opportunity Preferences" section under "Contact Settings." If you say you are interested in career opportunities, you could be sending a red flag to your manager. You can gain exposure among your peers by joining groups related to your professional field. Many recruiters are members and scan the roster for potential hires. Contribute to the discussion and establish yourself as a subject matter expert to catch their interest.

Should I friend my boss or coworkers?

This is the $64,000 question, and the feelings of those on the receiving end may provide the answer. (See "Thinking About 'Friending' Your Boss on Facebook?" on Page 10 of Business Etiquette: The New Rules in a Digital Age.) If you do connect, utilize privacy settings and different friend lists to control how — and with whom — you share content. Be sensitive to your professional environment: some industries or companies are much more engaged in digital networking than others. If you're starting a new job, take your cue from others before sending out "friend" requests to your new colleagues.

Can Facebook postings hurt my job search?

A good rule of thumb is to always post prudently: If you don't want your employer to see it, get rid of it. A recent survey by our firm revealed that 44 percent of executives review the Facebook presence of potential hires. Even if your account is just for fun, keep it in check. To put your Facebook on a privacy lockdown, click on the drop-down "Account" menu in the top right corner and select "Privacy Settings." Keep in mind that Facebook may change its privacy features at any time, and you might not be aware of the changes when they occur. Always assume that anything you post online may become public.

Should I use Facebook at work?

Maybe, if it's for work-related purposes and not just keeping your friends updated on your weekend activities. Then again, maybe not. Thirty-eight percent of chief information officers interviewed by Robert Half have implemented stricter social networking policies as these tools have become more prevalent in the workplace. If you're not sure what rules your firm has in place, check with your manager or human resources representative. Your best bet is your own good judgment. Just as you would expect to restrict personal phone calls or conversation at work, you should limit personal use of social networking platforms, too.

What's the right way to decline a request to connect with someone?

While an automated "No, thank you" could make our lives easier, no response at all might be your best bet. Don't feel pressured to connect with someone you would rather not form a relationship with, and don't feel the need to explain your decision. If you expect you might run into the individual in person, be prepared in case you are confronted about it. Simply click "Ignore," especially if the person is a stranger.

If someone follows me on Twitter, should I automatically follow him or her back?

No, because you may end up unfollowing the person later. Before following people, check out their feed, bio and previous tweets to get a sense of them or their organization, and determine if you'll be interested in seeing the kind of content they share. Although it's considered good etiquette to follow someone back, don't do it indiscriminately. It's your feed, and you want to make it valuable to you.

Emails and conference calls

Uh oh. I sent a confidential email to the wrong person. What do I do now?

It's not a lost cause, and there are a few steps you can take. First, try to use the recall function of your email program. But keep in mind that not all applications offer this option, and various factors can affect how successful it is. If this step doesn't solve the problem, you need to limit the impact of your mistake. Contact those who are affected: the recipient and possibly the person to whom you intended to send the message. Explain your error and if you need their help correcting it. You also may need to inform your manager of the mistake.

How responsive should I be to e-mail when I'm on vacation?

It depends on whether you want to have a real vacation. If your "Out of Office" says you're not checking e-mail on vacation, don't check and respond to messages. Doing so changes expectations and implies you're more accessible than you said you'd be. Instead, be considerate to others' needs while you are out and list a back-up contact in your Out of Office auto response.

I forgot to attach a file before sending an email…again. How can I avoid this in the future?Slow down. Everyone forgets to attach a file from time to time because they're in a rush. But repeatedly making this mistake can cause your colleagues to question your attention to detail. Going forward, try attaching your file before you compose your message. This way, you can be sure it makes it to the recipient. Just make sure you attach the right file.

How can I prevent my colleagues from scheduling conference calls over lunch?

Everyone should have a chance to eat lunch. Often, people simply look for an open spot on others' calendars when scheduling a meeting. So you might consider blocking out your lunch hour to ensure you have time to grab a bite to eat. Although it may be unavoidable to meet during this time on occasion, you might find that this simple step helps you out.