Fundamentally there is no difference between the etiquette of handling a cell phone than there is a land line. Nor is there any difference between an email and a posted letter except for the speed of delivery.

When you receive any phone message, you should return it as quickly as possible, although a phone message should not be considered an emergency, unless of course it is one. Unsolicited marketing phone calls do not need to be returned. However, if a call is from someone you know, return it at your earliest convenience, certainly within 24 hours if possible.

Other calls may or may not be returned at your discretion. I am not a fan of phone messages requesting me to call back with no explanation, no matter who they’re from. Have the decency to leave a proper message stating the purpose of your call or risk being ignored. Common courtesy is the name of the game, so be respectful of someone trying to reach you. If there is a time when you would be available to speak, indicate this in your message. Realize that you are imposing on someone else’s time, so acknowledge this.

Emails should be answered the day they are received if possible. They should be answered in the format in which they were sent. Proper letter writing protocol should always be followed, being sure grammar, spelling and all punctuation are correct. Nothing could be less professional than a letter riddled with mistakes. The notion that clerical mistakes will get their attention is total nonsense.

As with any correspondence, be sure the tone of the letter is carefully considered. As with any handwritten letter, a turn of phrase takes the place of inflection and facial expression, so be thoughtful with each sentence. Do not proofread your own writing, but do be sure someone else does this for you. Always take the high road and avoid using capital letters for emphasis. That is more suitable for a child having a tantrum.

Civility is contagious. Practice it whenever possible; and it’s always possible.

This is part of an ongoing series on etiquette in the workplace. Read previous posts here.