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Five Lessons on Using Phones and E-Mail from the Emily Post Institute

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One, never put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t post on a bulletin board. That prudent advice comes from the venerated Emily Post Institute via Peter Post, director, who has conducted business etiquette seminars for firms such as Citigroup, Fidelity Investments and Smith Barney.

“Once an e-mail is sent from your computer,” Post said, “it’s a public document that anyone can see.”

Two, new electronic technologies call for new behaviors and etiquette.

“When a communication is conducted in a public forum, such as on a cell phone or in an e-mail, make sure you don’t put confidential information out there for the public to see,” explained Post, a great-grandson of Emily Post, the manners maven who penned the 1922 bestseller Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home.

“The minute an e-mail or text gets into anything qualitative or personal,” says Peter, 59, “you’re using the wrong medium. Don’t make a mistake because, sure as shootin’, you’re going to get caught by Murphy’s Law.”

For instance, you might intend to e-mail confidential account information to a client named Dave but accidentally fire off the message to a different client named Dave. “Recovery from something like that is really hard.”

Three, as for manners in the year 2010, what would be a worse time to answer your ringing cell phone than during a client meeting? “Excuse me — I have to get this!”

“I mean, come on. Just think about how that makes the client feel: ‘I guess I’m not the most important person here.’ When you’re with someone who has a $10 million account with you and they walk out the door, how good is that?” he added.

Four, when it comes to privacy, should you receive a client’s confidential e-mail on your smart phone? Delete it at once, Post says.

“If you leave the phone, say, in a taxi, anybody can pick it up — and everything will be available. Would you want to be the person who lost that phone and had to tell your manager and the client? You have to watch what you do not only at work, but when you’re not at work. We call that being a 24/7 professional,” he explained.

There’s high demand nowadays for business etiquette training: companies, including financial services firms, are hiring young people “with great job skills but without commensurate personal skills,” Post said.

“As a result, it’s costing companies business because the new hires — financial advisors, for example — aren’t interacting well with co-workers, who don’t like the way they’re being treated. And the managers,” he said, “don’t like the way the new hires are representing the company.”

Five, given the heightened stress brought by the financial crisis, plus firms’ pressure on FAs to deliver more now, veteran advisors need to brush up on people skills as well.

“In the financial advisory world, there was a cultural mentality that anything goes: You treated people who were making the trades for you or working under you in any way you wanted. The stories are legion,” Post said. “I would have a hard time believing that it’s any better now. There has to be some impetus from the top for changing the corporate culture.”

Though the country is in post-recession, problems, obviously, still abound. Therefore, “the people who are going to be successful are the ones that build the best relationships,” explained Post. “Always treat others with the principles of etiquette: consideration, respect and honesty.”


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