Different rules have always applied in the digital scene. Striking the right tone is becoming increasingly difficult as digitalisation spreads to classic areas. Well-dressed people arriving at a meet-up are likely to attract plenty of unwanted attention. Polite emails are considered a waste of time in the digital era and may become sources of misunderstanding.
Hamburg News interviewed Christiane Brandes-Visbeck, owner of Ahoi Consulting agency about etiquette, communication and innovation in the digital era, in the German language. We addressed each other as “Du” (you) rather than the formal “Sie” in German as, “'You’ is now more common in a digital environment,” said Brandes-Visbeck, who is also director of Digital Media Women (DMW).
Hamburg News: Am I putting my foot in it by dropping the polite German “Sie”?
Christiane: Well, the use of “Sie” and “Du” was subject to strict rules such as age over youth, status etc. However, “Du” has been used in the digital scene from the start. “Sie” sounds strange and has been used sometimes as a demarcation. But the increasing mix of worlds has seen “Sie” return to social media. If you communicate with someone on Facebook and address them as “Du”, you cannot continue using it, when you meet that person offline.
Hamburg News: How do I know which salutation is appropriate?
Christiane: Tact is needed for that. Social skills and finding out where something works well are crucial in the digital era. Now more than ever, I communicate who I am. The use of 'you’ promises eye-level communication and there is more modest use of titles. Creative bosses see themselves as members of an innovative team and do not necessarily present themselves as 'head of’. That is perhaps based on unconscious opposition to the dog-eat-dog society and a longing just to sit around a bonfire. Humility and gratitude are also formative concepts. Note that in the digital scene, phrases such as ‘Thanks for your input, your idea and your time’ are more common. Whereas in the past, commonalties were established via gossip, honest praise works far better nowadays. In the digital, pre-Trump age when we all thought the net was a better place, emotions played a big role.
Hamburg News: Really – some emails do not seem cordial and appear curt and short…
Christiane: Oh, that’s simply practical. You must keep things brief in order to manage a flood of emails. The more often you write to someone, salutations and endings quickly seem superfluous. Emoticons can instead convey your intended meaning. However, not everyone likes them and you must know whom you are contacting. If a person is digitally savvy, then they are more likely to be concise. Long explanations are just confusing. People who communicate often look for buzzwords in a text to deduce the contents quickly. That is made more difficult by using complicated, badly phrased explanations and you may anger the recipient and can expect misunderstandings.
Hamburg News: But I may anger others by not using the good old phrases…
Christiane: There is truly that risk. Emails were originally written like letters but sent electronically. Nowadays, WhatsApp, Twitter and Slack are the measure of brief communication. Other than that, communication should mirror your counterpart’s style.
Hamburg News: What rules apply to dress codes in the digital scene?
Christiane: Casual clothes are worn in the digital scene. You do not have to wear a T-shirt, jeans and hoody all the time, but suits, white blouses, ties and collars are seldom worn. Basically, there are no rules, trends at the most. At the moment, the trend is towards significance, sustainability and individuality and corresponds to the maker movement. A special piece from a local designer will get the conversation going. Exchanging ideas and networking are the alpha and the omega and not just in the digital scene.