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Professionalism, Ethics And Courtesy On The Net
Article on netethics and e-mail ethics

© 1998 Claire Belilos
HIC Hospitality Consulting Services

Terms: For reading only. Not to be sold, reprinted,re-written, distributed, re-broadcast,
uploaded, or used to conduct training by others without written agreement

Being on the net has opened up unlimited global business, learning and networking opportunities. It is up to all users to maintain and help ensure decorum, professionalism, courtesy and ethical behaviour. If we do not, not only do we tarnish our image, but may lead to a re-thinking of the way things are done on the net; new barriers may be set up and this total openness and instant easy accessibility to all may become a thing of the past.

Some net users abuse and misuse these opportunities. There are the "spammers" who indiscriminately bombard us with their unwelcome advertising, and there are those who use it for illegal or evil purposes. As we go along, and with advice from others, we learn how to avoid and ignore "negative users". We cannot allow these to prevent us from being part of the fascinating universe of cyberspace.

This guideline is to help inexperienced users establish a positive identity, win friends and business associates. Some are still hesitant, accessing the net only as visitors and observers, missing out on this unique opportunity.

Respecting other people's e-mail addresses: Do not give out others' e-mail addresses without first obtaining permission to do so - this would constitute a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.

Collecting e-mail addresses for "spam" or "bulk" mail purposes: Do not collect other people's e-mail addresses you come across for such purposes. You will have attained the exact opposite of what you aimed for. You and your company will be disliked and ruled out. If you do bulk-mail anyhow, have the courtesy to give a genuine return e-mail address to which the recipient may write to ask to be removed from your list. No one wants unknown intruders!

Properly identify yourself and your business: When establishing a first contact with a person or company, identify yourself and your company, giving full name, title or occupation, address and genuine e-mail address. It would be improper to present yourself with a cloaked e-mail identity such as a "yahoo" or "hotmail" address unless you can explain the reason for it (being on travel or using someone else's computer).

Addressing others: When sending an e-mail to someone for the first time, you must also address that person formally, as is done in all business communication. Write the person's full name, title or position, company name and address, followed by a formal greeting (Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Mr./Ms...). It would be a good idea to add that person's phone and fax numbers under the address to enable the recipient to correct us if necessary.

Asking for information: When you ask someone for information, remember that you are imposing on that person's time, attention, and expertise. The least courtesy is for you to explain who you are exactly and why you need this information.

Thanking people who answer you: Every response you receive, whether satisfying or not, deserves a courteous return "thank you" note to the sender. When thanking, remember to quote the subject at hand so the other party will remember who you are (e.g. "thank you for responding to my query regarding your services", or "thank you for the response you posted on the Inc Online forum or on the Human Resources bulletin board of HRWorld in answer to my query on ....."x" subject). People who use the net are extremely busy managing their business and communications with a multitude of people and companies. They may wonder who you are if you just send a simple thank you. Do not forget to write your full name, company name, address, and URL (web page address) in your signature; this will ensure your being included in "the good books" of the person or company you are thanking (good public relations and marketing tactic).

If you want something, offer something in return: If you ask of others, you should be ready to give. What you give should be of value. You can offer return assistance, or mention a resourceful web site you know, or invite that person to visit your web site (which should offer value and benefit to visitors).

Respect proprietary rights: When you find on someone else's site information you wish to have at hand, you can usually download it, save it and print it out. However, if you want to use it, you must respect proprietary rights. The creator or author invested all he/she has to come up with this creation. It has been posted there for informational purposes - not for others to use as their own. Sometimes authors clearly write that you may print out, photocopy, and use the material even professionally - however they do ask that whoever does so will keep the name and address of the author intact. You should respect copyright.

Behave courteously and professionally: When you ask someone for information, use the usual courteous language, such as "please" "I would appreciate" and thank the giver for his/her time and attention. Some people tend to adopt unacceptable dictating tones such as "send me" "give me" etc. This gives rise to immediate dislike and disrespect.

If you ask for assistance, show that you did some hard work yourself before turning for assistance: Do not fall into the trap of thinking everyone there on the net who appears so courteous, ready and eager to offer advice or give assistance is ready to do work you should be doing yourself. Do not be misled by the thought that you can obtain free professional work through the net. If you ask for assistance, expect guidance, not unpaid work by others. Demonstrate that you yourself have invested serious effort towards your goal but find that you need advice from others.

Newcomers: If you are a newcomer to the net, do not be ashamed to admit it. Many people on the net like to act as mentors. It is up to you not to abuse their kindness, but treat them with courtesy and respect their time.

Free on line courses or working tools: Some sites, such as government or association sites, offer free courses or working tools they allow you to download and use, even professionally (i.e. for profit). If you download or use such material, why not extend a word of appreciation to the givers and creators of this material? Send a letter of appreciation for their material and say that you find it useful in your line of work or business. This will not only be appreciated by the people you write to and put you and your company in good standing with them, but may lead them to copy you on further material or invite you to participate in an on-line live chat forum on the subject. You will find yourself placed on the map of that particular industry or occupation!

Bulletin Board and Chat Forums - the heart of networking on the net:

  • Avoid using jargon. If you love using abbreviations, such as P.R., EEO, ROI, follow up each abbreviation with the complete words, e.g.: public relations, equal employment opportunity, return on investment. What you say has to be totally and clearly understandable to any viewer.
  • Answer questions others have posted only if you have something of value to respond. Do not respond with a short "contact me" (the other viewers want to see what it is you can counsel that person - you should at least give a guideline response). Do not jump at every enquirer to push for your services without even bothering to offer some intelligent response to the question.
  • This is no place for foul language. Respect yourself and respect others.  
  • Do not use bulletin boards and chat forums for blatant advertising purposes. They are intended for networking and a healthy exchange of ideas. If all everyone does is push for his/her services, we shall find ourselves in the Tower of Babel with no one listening to or understanding the other.
  • Do not destroy the effectiveness of these forums. Do not go in surreptitiously to collect e-mail addresses for bulk-mail purposes. If you do so you may cause everyone to assume an "anonymous" identity with no address.
  • Help maintain a higher level of communication. If someone makes a contribution of value, say so, give a compliment, even to your peers. Everyone needs to be rewarded with acknowledgment. Not only will you help in encouraging positive and useful contributions, but you yourself will earn respect and attention. Such behaviour also leads to unexpected friendships.

"Anonymous" postings: Some people list themselves as "anonymous" when participating in chat forums or bulletin boards. They have their own reasons for keeping their identity and their company's identity anonymous. You can also be "anonymous". However, do not follow the example of some of the negative "anonymous" people - those who remain anonymous in order to treat others with cynicism or disrespect.

Anonymous postings have one drawback however: if someone likes what you say, wants to pursue the relationship, or even offer you a work or business opportunity that person has no way to contact you. It is best not to be "anonymous" unless you have serious reasons for being so.

Business opportunities arising from participating in bulletin boards and chat forums: The organizers usually post guidelines and explain the purpose of such boards or forums (networking, exchange of ideas, etc.). Stick to the stated guidelines and give meaningful contributions. Before you know it, business opportunities will open up - either directly from among the active participants or from silent viewers and observers.

Some heads of companies read these forums to discover just the right person or business they are looking for. If your proper identity (genuine e-mail address, type of occupation, and possibly name of company) appear with your posting, they will contact you directly explaining that they liked your responses or approach and would like to know you better. A business rapport will be established. Quite often they will reveal what services they need and negotiations can begin.

When you offer valuable advice to an enquirer, in most cases, the enquirer will write to you directly thanking you, saying how your advice has helped/him her achieve the desired goal. Even if this does not generate immediate business for you, it will in the long run. You will be kept in mind for future business opportunities and will earn word-of-mouth advertising through the enquirer. Such a direct contact will enable you to better explain your services or the products you offer, which may indeed lead to business.

Demonstrating a professional attitude: It is advisable to adhere to basic business rules and etiquette:

  • Do not try to "grab" or pounce upon a business opportunity
  • If what is required by the potential client does not fall within your area of expertise, refer the enquirer to a peer or other source specializing in that particular area.
  • Treat your peers with the respect and consideration you extend to your customers. Compliment them for their achievement or positive contribution.
  • Behave with integrity at all times. Make sure that what you offer is for your client's best interest.
  • Maintain good, mutually respectful relations with peers and the public at large.
  • Speak well of your peers and clients - it will repay itself tenfold.
  • Be truthful. Do not pretend to be what you are not. If you need advice, consult with your peers; they will appreciate it and you will receive the best advice available. Professionals on the web seem to communicate and cooperate more than in real life - the spell of the web has created a new universe with a new way of doing things. With technological advances, it became almost impossible to hide behind an elegant bold front. Moreover, most of net communication is instant, led by "gut feeling" and this instinct is usually right. Even through words appearing on our monitor we can "sense" the values and motivation of others.

When you act with honesty, courtesy and professional ethics, to quote Shakespeare, "the world is yours!"  

Thank you for visiting.  We hope you will find value in the free online information provided in our "how to" articles.

Copyright © 1998 Claire Belilos

This article is not to be sold, uploaded, used for public viewing, reproduced or distributed in any form or manner without the author's written permission.

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For the French language version of this article, translated by courtesy of Patrick Ifonge, at

Claire Belilos, CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services, Home page:, specializes in Hospitality, human resources strategies, organizational training and development, Customer Service and problem- solving. She offers "on site", online and distance consulting and coaching, designs job, training and evaluation tools.  List yourself to be advised of the unique Customer Service Viewpoints forum at

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