Despite tools like e-mail, social media, and mobile devices, all designed to make communicating a cinch, it seems to me that sometimes there’s less old-fashioned courteous communication than there used to be.

As I reflect on the year that was and the year just beginning, please join me in honing a few old-timey courtesies that I believe enhance any relationship and make human interactions a lot more pleasant.

Acknowledge communication

Nobody likes to be left hanging. Promptly acknowledge the receipt of a query, proposal, price, introduction, or job application. All it takes is a quick reply—whether by e-mail, voice mail, DM or postcard—saying, “I received your message; thank you for your interest in our company,” and a few words on what to expect next.

There’s no harm in being direct, either. Hearing, “Sorry, we don’t have need for what you’re selling,”  or, “Our priorities have changed and we won’t be working on that project until 2011,” or “My life is crazy for the next two weeks, but I’ll get back to you after that,” is vastly preferable to hearing nothing at all.

Don’t play hard-to-get

In 2009, one woman I was referred to told me (with some pride, I thought), “It always takes several tries to get my attention.” Now I understand that persistence can be a virtue, but this self-important attitude struck me as just plain rude.

Contrast this with Nordstrom. When I worked in corporate advertising there, we followed the policy that every phone call must be picked up; every message responded to. Yes, it took time, but these practices contributed to Nordstrom’s reputation for excellent, responsive service, from the sales floor to the corporate level.

Say thank you

Has a vendor, coworker, or networking friend been responsive? Thoughtful? Thorough? Creative? Conscientious? Delivered a beautiful product? Put in extra time and energy? Made an introduction or referral? If so, make a point of thanking them sincerely. Everybody likes their efforts to be noticed and appreciated.

Address conflicts directly

Don’t go away mad, hold a grudge, or badmouth a person to others. When I have a problem with somebody, I try my best to take the time to discuss it with them privately and directly. These can be hard discussions to have, but I’ve found that they both clear the air and build mutual respect.

Apologize and move on

We all blow it now and then. Saying, “I’m sorry. What can I do now to help fix the problem?” is refreshingly direct. I don’t expect perfection, but I always appreciate willingness to find a good solution.

Remember, Relationships still rule

We hustle to add another column to the spreadsheet, send another PDF, do business by e-mail or mobile device, or tweet several times a day. But do these tools drive us toward creating rewarding interpersonal connections? Yield better products? When they do, I’m all for them. For instance, I love the way Twitter and this blog have introduced me to some cool folks I’d never have met otherwise.

But I’ve realized that when I let these tools buffer me from the human connection and encapsulate me into a separate electronic hermitage, it’s time to make a point of picking up the phone, arranging a lunch or coffee, or hand-delivering a small token of appreciation. Not only does business—and life—work better that way, but it’s a lot more enjoyable, too.

In 2010, it’s still all about relationships—and the thoughtful words that help preserve and build them.