How Etiquette Cops Can Hurt Business

There are so many things to be offended about in this world, why choose to be offended about silly things?

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Suzanne Lucas
Is it good business sense to point out rudeness? Or is that just rude? A reader recently wrote to ask my opinion on the issue.

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I made a mistake of putting all capital letters in the subject line of an E-mail, to show this item was still outstanding. I am a customer, he is the provider, and it had been five days without any reply. The recipient sent me an E-mail stating I did not have to put this in all caps. Wanting to do the right thing, I sent an immediate response that I did not intend to offend, and apologized. He sent me a quick E-mail back stating he was not offended.

My question: If someone does send you E-mail with one word or a line of words in caps, is it proper to say anything about it? If he was not offended, then why the E-mail? I'm thinking if someone sends you an E-mail with caps in it, and you find it offensive, it is still best to ignore than to call attention to ones shortcomings.

You know, there are so many things to be offended about in this world, I don't know why people choose to be offended about silly things. Yes, it totally bugs people when all caps are used. I understand why you did it in the subject line, but I also understand why your vendor is bugged by it.

[See the trouble with blogging.]

And he was offended, even though he probably realized that he'd done something stupid in mentioning it. I mean, you're a client, for goodness sakes. Who points out minor etiquette infractions in a client?

So, should you point out rudeness? Yes, and no. For something minor, no. You let it go. For instance, my name is Suzanne, not Susan. If, however, I get an E-mail addressed to Susan, I simply treat the E-mail as if they spelled my name correctly. And If you speak to me and say, "Hey Susan," I'll generally just respond.

[See why most managers need degrees.]

But, if I'm at a new job and I'm going to have to see these people every day for the next three to five years, I'll say, "Actually, it's Suzanne." But, if I'm just at the grocery store and I'm probably not going to build a relationship with the cashier who has been instructed to look at the name on the credit card and thank me personally, I just ignore it.

If you sent an E-mail with the subject line in all caps to your boss, and it bothers her, she should gently correct you. But, when you are the client, the provider should let this go. If you'd written the entire letter with the caps lock key on, then I think he would be within the realm of propriety to mention something.

At the end of the day we'd all be a lot happier if we could let the little things go.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years off human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.