A Double-Edged Sword

Technology has benefited business by increasing productivity. But when used inappropriately, technology also can hurt relationships and cost companies business.

Technology in business today is like a double- edged sword. It has benefited business by increasing productivity. People can get more done faster than ever before. Information can be sorted and analyzed at break-neck speeds. Communication is virtually instantaneous. As a result, productivity has increased, as has the opportunity for profit.

Yet, at the same time, businesses need to be aware that technology not only affects profits and productivity, it also has an impact on people’s relationships. And unfortunately, when used inappropriately, technology can hurt relationships and cost companies business, productivity, and profits.


Heading the list of ways technology can hurt business is misuse of e-mail. The single most requested topic we receive in our business etiquette seminars is e-mail etiquette. Here are the two biggest mistakes made with e-mail today:

  • Failure to follow the “Who, What, When, Where Rule.” E-mail is great for communicating who, what, when, or where. But when e-mails delve into “why” or opinion, the opportunity for the e-mail to be misunderstood increases significantly. The more complicated the “why” or forceful the opinion should be a signal that e-mail is not the right mode of communication. Better to deliver the why or the opinion on the phone or in person to limit misunderstandings.
  • Failure to ask, “Is it private or public?” Too many times, people send e-mails thinking they are for the recipient’s eyes only, only to have the e-mail end up being seen by the entire office, if not the entire Internet universe, with damaging results.


The advent of the smartphone has revolutionized communication. While it makes communication both instantaneous and 24/7 virtually from anywhere, those very capabilities are also its pitfalls.

  • A little time for reflection can go a long way toward avoiding trouble. You receive an e-mail or a voice message that seems caustic to you, so you fire off a fast reply. Later, you find you misinterpreted the original sender’s tone or intent, and now you both are in relationship-recovery mode rather than dealing with the issue at hand.
  • Work creep is an insidious result of smartphone technology. Your boss, or your client, can reach you anytime, anywhere by phone. And even if you choose not to answer, the person sending you a text assumes that, of course, you have seen it and you will deal with it. If you don’t, you may well hear the next day at work: “Why didn’t you get back to me when I texted you?”

The corollary to work creep is life creep. With office landline phones, the company rule was no personal calls unless they were bonafide emergency calls. The smartphone has upended that rule, and in our business etiquette seminars, we now teach how to manage the numerous personal calls you undoubtedly receive each day. Some suggestions:

  • Put your ringer on vibrate mode, so ringing doesn’t negatively affect coworkers.
  • If you do get a personal call or text, step to a private area (hallway, an empty conference room, or outside), and keep it short.
  • Best of all, if it is your personal phone (one on which you do not receive business calls), turn it off and listen to and respond to calls, texts, and voicemails during a break.

Peter Post is a director of The Emily Post Institute (http://www.emilypost.com/ seminars), greatgrandson of Emily Post, and co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.”