Is Digital Connection our Friend or Foe? 

Digital Communication - Friend or Foe?

Picture this scenario: Tara, a mid-level manager at a travel company, rushes out the door to catch the subway to work. As she hurries, she remembers that she wants to talk to her employee, Alex, about the report submitted yesterday. Tara appreciated Alex’s work product, thought it had excellent ideas and wanted to suggest ways to polish it up for presentation to the leadership team. Before she forgets, she quickly shoots Alex a text “Do you have a minute to discuss your report later today?” and heads to the office.

Now picture this: Alex is sitting in his kitchen having his “get-me-ready-for-the-day” coffee, when “PING!”. He looks down at his phone to see a text from his boss Tara “Do you have a minute to discuss your report later?” it reads. Oh no, he thinks to himself, I must have done something wrong, and he spends the rest of the day anxiously waiting to see his boss and spiraling through worst case scenarios in his head. 

Digital Communication 

Email or Text providing clarity or confusion?

In a world where online communication increasingly replaces in-person conversations, misunderstandings like this are all too common. I am sure we’ve all sent, or received, emails, texts or slacks that came across differently than intended. The goal in all communication is for the sender’s intent to match the message received on the other end. However, this connection of intent is often lost when communicating online. Most notably absent in online communication are the facial expressions, body language and nonverbal cues that convey the tone and intent of the message. So the receiver assumes these things which may not match the sender’s intent.  

To minimize digital miscommunication, we can adjust behavior to be more clear about the intent of a message. Here are a few tactics you and your organization can implement in order to minimize confusion and unintended reactions, ensuring online communication is an asset rather than a liability. 

Match The Method With The Message

One of the keys to making online communication work for you instead of against you, is making sure you choose the correct medium for each communication. It’s important to know what information should be conveyed in an email, versus a meeting, or phone call rather than just shooting off a quick text. Selecting the appropriate method of communication upfront boosts your efficiency and effectiveness while ensuring your employees receive the message as you intended. And nobody likes an unnecessary meeting where all attendees leave thinking “what a waste of time, couldn’t this have been an email!?”

Deciding which method of communication to use depends on factors like: 

  • Audience 
  • Goal of the communication
  • Time you are sending it 
  • Amount of details required to be communicated
  • Length of content (hint: a text message should not require 3 scrolls) 

For example, in a situation where you need an instant response about something simple like what time you can meet a colleague for coffee, a text is the easiest and most direct way to make plans rather than an email. For more sensitive topics or detailed explanatory communications, it may be necessary to have an in-person meeting rather than communicating in writing to make sure your employees are clearly receiving the intended message. 

Establish and Communicate a Company Standard of Communication Etiquette 

As an organization it is critical that all employees are on the same page about what’s appropriate when communicating in the workplace, whether it be online or in a meeting. The rule of thumb for communicating with a colleague is respect, and the second is trying to understand the communication preferences of the receiver. I suggest you establish a standard of communication etiquette among all members of your team. This can look like a list of “Do’s” and ‘Don’ts” when contacting another employee.

For example: 

  • “Do” clearly state the subject of the meeting in the meeting invite
  • “Don’t” use acronyms or technical jargon that may confuse the reader
  • “Do” be concise and clear in your message with a clear goal or next steps
  • “Don’t” contact your colleagues on their vacation days 

It is important to also convey a standard of respect in all communications and lay down clear rules about what’s acceptable when communicating as a team. 

Choose Your Words Wisely 

Word choice and language matter. In written communication, it’s difficult to convey tone, and intent as clearly as you can in-person. Non-verbal communication and body language is lost when communicating online, so it is important to overcompensate for its absence in selecting your words. This is why it’s better to think about word choice so as not to end up in a situation where your message is received differently than intended, or not received at all. Opening with polite greetings and using key adjectives as descriptors can help convey the tone that is missing. Some key word choices could have avoided some of the anxiety that Alex had upon receiving Tara’s text over morning coffee. In written communication, you typically should be concise and get to the point, but use important details when necessary to convey your message with clarity. 

So, what if Tara had added a word in her quick text to Alex to indicate that their meeting about the report was positive? If she had texted, “Do you have a minute to discuss your excellent report later?”, she would have saved Alex the worry of potential criticism and given a key hint that the meeting later was going to be a positive one rather than negative. Small tweaks in how you use digital communication can make a big difference in your company’s teamwork and efficiency. 

Need support?

Developing a team wide accepted communication protocol will go a long way to avoiding unnecessary confusion and stress. To learn more about how Sailor’s Sweet Life can help you and your team’s communication to be clear, concise, cohesive, complete and concrete, click here

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(yes, even that person it feels impossible to see eye-to-eye with).