Technology can be your best ally or worst enemy. How can you recover from an embarrassing or humiliating incident over e-mail, social networks, or the phone, or even avoid a tech mishap in the first place?
By Melissa Dittmann Tracey
We all make mistakes sometimes, but a mistake delivered over technology can be a lasting one–even at times an “archived” one on the Internet that plays over and over again.
Maybe an embarrassing photo of you surfaced on Facebook for all of your clients to see, or you accidentally sent a document to the wrong client or hit the “reply all” button when making a snarky remark over e-mail. Such technology mishaps can certainly be damaging to your career, particularly if not resolved quickly.
In real estate, where technology is often more friend than foe, taking precaution to avoid tech blunders can be well worth the extra effort. According to a recent survey by Robert Half International, the top professional “technology etiquette sins” reported by human resource managers are being inconsiderate to others by taking calls anytime on a smartphone, venting on bad things about the workplace on social networking sites, using instant-messaging shorthand, and constantly pestering others using technology.
If you’ve committed a technology sin, the best thing to do is repent. Here are some tips from etiquette experts on how to handle the fallout from some unintentional errors that can occur over technology and, better yet, how to prevent landing yourself in a technology mishap to begin with.
Tech Mishap No. 1: Forwarding the wrong document to a client
The Oops Moment: You forwarded an important, personal document regarding a real estate transaction to the wrong client.
The Recovery: This can be a very damaging mistake, depending on the extent of the private information the document contained. Putting someone else’s private information in another’s hands, unintentional or not, can land you in professional or even legal trouble. “Your best bet is to try to appeal to the humanity of the person who received your e-mail mistakenly,” says etiquette expert Cynthia W. Lett, director of The Lett Group in Silver Spring, Md. “Explain to them that they received a personal document that was intended for another client you are working with, and that you would appreciate it if they would destroy the document immediately.” You should also notify the other client about your mistake and apologize.
Avoid This Mistake: The REALTOR Code of Ethics says that REALTORS have an obligation to preserve the confidential information of their clients (as defined by state law). Slow down to avoid such big blunders when sending personal documents.
Also, watch for the auto-fill feature on most e-mail programs when sending messages. Your e-mail may save your contacts; when you begin to type a name, it may automatically input the e-mail address of a client to whom it assumes you intend to send the message. Encrypt any sensitive records and files to keep them more secure when sending anything online, and make it a policy to never send highly confidential information over unsecure e-mail.
“Pay attention,” Lett says. “We do things too quickly without thinking clearly.” Before you send any e-mail, take your hands off the computer and put them in your lap for at least 20 seconds, carefully reviewing what you just wrote and who you are about to send it to, Lett advises.
Tech Mishap No. 2: An embarrassing photo of you surfaces on Facebook
The Oops Moment: That photo of you after you’d had a bit too much to drink at a holiday party or otherwise acting unprofessional may someday come back to haunt you, thanks to social media. Your friends can upload a photo and tag you, and voilà. There it is, for all your clients to see.
The Recovery: In Facebook, you can untag yourself in a photo by bringing up the offending picture on your screen and then looking for the “report/remove tag” link to get your name removed from it. This at least will remove the photo immediately from your page. However, the picture will still be on the poster’s page and possibly even surface elsewhere on the Internet. Contact the person who tagged you in the photo. Call her on the phone to make the conversation more human and urgent, Lett suggests. Ask her to remove the photo immediately. Many people who tag you in photos think you’ll appreciate it, and don’t realize you’d be hurt by it, Lett says.
Avoid This Mistake: Facebook has security features so that you can choose a setting where you must approve all tagged photos of yourself prior to them appearing on your page. You’ll get notified as soon as someone tags you and can approve or disapprove of it. From your Facebook account, visit “Privacy Settings,” click on “Edit Settings” for “How Tags Work,” and then review the settings you have in place. The security setting won’t prevent others from uploading embarrassing photos of you, but it can prevent the photo from appearing on your page for your contacts to see.
And this probably goes without saying, but try to take some caution so that embarrassing photos aren’t taken in the first place. Remember: “The photos posted of you and the comments you make on social networking sites can start to form your reputation,” Lett says. “Take steps to protect your reputation on social networking sites.”
Tech Mishap No. 3: Mistakenly hitting ‘Reply All’ to an e-mail message
The Oops Moment: You went to respond to a message with a sarcastic comment intended for only one other person’s eyes — a person with whom you may have a joking relationship. But you accidentally hit “reply all” to a company or group message. Now everyone sees your private message, and some may take offense.
The Recovery: Some people have lost their jobs over this very scenario. Get on the phone if there’s anything in your message that could potentially hurt anyone’s feelings, apologize, and try to explain yourself, Lett says. Your top priority is to concentrate on repairing the damage from the person most hurt by your message. By having a voice conversation, you share your emotion, tone of voice, and energy in apologizing much better than an impersonal e-mail apology could ever communicate.
Avoid This Mistake: Avoid using your work e-mail to send any humorous or overly personal e-mail chains. Use a private account so there’s no mix-up. Keep all of your company e-mail communications professional in tone. And before you ever press “send,” make sure your e-mail message is going to the right person.
Tech Mishap No. 4: Calling your client by the wrong name
The Oops Moment:When talking on the phone or sending an e-mail, you mistakenly call your client “Jim” when his name is really “Bob.”
The Recovery: Call your client back immediately–even if the mistake was made over e-mail. Voice-to-voice interaction on the phone makes the conversation human again, Lett says. She suggests starting the conversation jokingly as you laugh, like “Hello, Jim. I mean, Bob. You know what, you look so much like someone I know named Jim and I was just talking to him, and I had his name in my head. Please forgive me, Bob.”
Avoid This Mistake: This can be one of the worst etiquette mistakes you can make because it’s so personal, possibly more offensive than even misfiling a document, Lett says. Avoid multitasking so you can concentrate when speaking or crafting a message to your client, so that you can avoid making such mistakes while distracted.
Technology Mishap No. 5: Inconsiderate phone use
The Oops Moment: Your phone rings, and you answer it while you’re out with another client showing him homes.
The Recovery: Tell the person on the other line that you’re meeting with another client and that you will have to return her call once you’re finished. Apologize to your other client for the disruption.
Avoid This Mistake: Make it a point to not pick up the phone when you’re out with another client–if you do answer those calls, it makes the client you’re with feel like he’s unimportant to you and the client who called you feel like you’re rushing her off the phone. Let your phone go to voicemail when you’re out with another client, and set your phone to vibrate so it won’t be distracting by constantly going off. Also, try to avoid other inconsiderate phone uses: Don’t call a client back or take a call while waiting in line at Starbucks or while driving. The loud background noises may make it difficult for your clients to hear you and for you to hear them. (Tip: If you must use the phone when you’re out, use the “mute” feature on your phone whenever background noise gets too loud.) Your best bet is always to pay your clients respect by waiting until you can get to a quiet place to call them back so that you can focus on the conversation, experts suggest.
“Rudeness will tick people off faster than humiliation,” Lett says. “If you’re out with a potential client who’s looking for a house and you’re getting text messages from other clients and you stop to take care of those text messages in front of that client, you will probably not have that client by the end of the day. There’s nothing people hate more than being ignored because of technology. It sends the message that you care more about your phone than the person sitting in front of you.”