Most of today’s communication happens online. Whether you’re asking your co–worker when they’ll finish their task or you’re chatting with a support agent to find out why your Netflix doesn’t work. Online communication is a big part of our lives: work and private and it sometimes results in confusion.
Why? Since we completely skipped from offline to online communication, we don’t even realize how our words are being received.
Body language and nonverbal signals are replaced by emoticons and gifs. It makes it easy to jump into the trap of “what does somebody mean.”
And what about when someone is not using emoticons? They have to be angry, right?
Well, written word can easily be misinterpreted. We fill in the blanks with our imagination and look for clues like smiley faces to tell us what mood the author is in. Sometimes, we can get really lost in our own interpretations.
To help you avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings, I’ve prepared some tips for you.
First, I’ll give you an overall advice and then divide them by the most popular communication channels we use these days at work. I hope you’ll know what I mean and won’t garble it! Have fun!
Are you screaming at me or what?
Recently, I wrote an email to a company and asked about the price of their service. They said: “the price for this and that is $200.” To make sure if it’s $200 total, I asked: “$200 overall?” And all I got was the answer: “YES.”
You can imagine my first thought. And the second. Has this lady just screamed at me? Did I give her a reason to do so? These thoughts made me feel bad about the whole case.
I wanted to write back, but I didn’t. And sure as hell I didn’t use their service. Maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe it’s my “customer–centric focus” craze, but I don’t want to be worried if she will be annoyed with my questions in the future.
So, don’t use caps lock in your online communication (unless you really mean to be shouting). It’s not well received by others. Even if you write it in a polite way.
These are just the rules of online communication. If you want to gain customers, you should follow the basic rules to not scare them off.
You’re in a rush so you don’t use the punctuation
While in offline world you can talk fast without catching a breath, your intonation and body language gives all the hints to what you mean. Without the punctuation, your sentence can have a completely different meaning. Let’s see the most basic example ever.
Woman without her man is nothing.
Woman: without her, man is nothing.
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
The other issue is that a recipient has to read your message two or three times to get your point. Don’t do it to other people. Use dots and commas.
Where do we talk about what?
Our company has around 80 people, so it’s essential to keep basic rules of communication. For example, where do we talk about new releases, projects feedback, important notices or even ordering food.
Here’s the situation we faced a while ago. Justyna, our content writer, had a good advice about email marketing and posted it on Slack in the #general channel, so that everyone could see it. Or at least that’s what she thought. Because even though the entire company is on this channel, some might have muted it, some might have gone on vacation.
That’s why we agreed that the best place for important messages is email. Simple because on Slack, after two days, the message would sink under all kind of other ones. Now, when people come back from Holidays and check their emails, they can see all the important messages.
Setting up the rules within your company, but also within your department, will make your life communication much smoother.
We use Facebook and Email differently
Everybody uses online channels differently. Some people are on Gmail, Slack and Facebook Messenger all the time. Some snooze their notifications and check them only twice a day.
It obviously depends on the job and... your character.
In our department, we agreed that we treat Slack as SMS. It doesn’t mean we have to be online all the time. But when we see a message, we respond. Fair enough.
When it comes to communicating with people outside the company, things are different. Let’s say you write with an offer to somebody from another company. You can’t expect them to write back to you the moment they see it. Give them time. Some people respond to emails even after a few days. Respect that. You don’t want to be too pushy.
Inside your company set up some rules. Are you checking Email and Slack after work? Or you can completely disconnect? Talk about it and try to follow through.
Is everything alright? There are no emojis in your messages…
The use of emojis is a complicated topic. Too much emojis make it hard to treat you professionally. On the other hand, when you don’t use any emojis at all, people feel like you’ve left your smile at home.
There’s also one more side of emojis and it’s called irony. I feel like, long gone are times when we wrote messages and added a smile at the end of the sentence to make the outcome more softly. Now, people add a wink at the end of the sentence to seem nice, when they’re not really. In result, they’re a little bit ironic.
Let’s take this example:
“Well John, I know you have a lot of work, but maybe a little less gossip with co-workers and you don’t have to stay at work till the evening ;)” It sounds like: “Don’t even think about not managing it.” Right?
Instead, a boss can say: “Well John, I know you have a lot of work and it’s great you’re integrating with others, but I think with a little time management you can do it! :)”
It suddenly changes the undertone and shows that John has a support in his boss. So don’t try to soften your message, when every smart person knows you’re just being ironic.
When you write something, it doesn’t just disappear
With online communication we need to be careful – we don’t know what feelings and concerns people have while we’re talking with them.
For example, if we’re in a rush and respond really fast, we’re straightforward without even thinking. It can be received as if we give orders to others, or that we’re mad.
In real life, it's claimed we speak on average 20000 words a day and about 95% of them are forgotten almost as soon as they have left our mouths. Let’s use it to our advantage and think twice before we write. How many times did you read the messages from the person who really annoys you?
Keep that in mind. Watch out for irony, respond to private messages, do not post argumentative responses on social media, and try not to use a negative tone.
Practice online communication rules on the most popular channels
You’ve read basic online communication rules. Now, let’s see how you can use this knowledge in practice, on the most popular communication channels at work.
1. Email communication
- Say hello, introduce yourself, but be humble. Sometimes we get emails like: “Hi! It’s John here! I want to write for your platform!” Well, that’s great.
- Don’t write too much. Sometimes we get emails that explain how much a person or a company achieved before they even get to the point. What I recommend is to write just a few sentences of introduction and get to the bottom of your case. If you write to other company, tell them what’s in it for them? If they like the purpose, they’ll check your company. People buy benefits.
- Use fonts anyone can read on any device. You don’t want to make your email look bad. It will cross your chances for any cooperation.
- Don’t forget to leave a signature and other contact details. It’s best if you have a mail footer.
2. Slack and chat communication
- Even in your daily communication with your teammates, use interpunction! Without it, the meaning of the sentence is completely changed or doesn’t have any sense at all. You don’t want people to wonder what you have in mind when you write something.
- Don’t overuse emojis. It makes it hard to take you seriously.
- Think before you write. Whether it’s Slack or live chat, you know people on the other side are busy. When it comes to support agents, their work is to help you. So let’s not waste their time.
- Don’t argue over Slack or live chat. It’s likely your words will be misinterpreted. Especially if there are no emojis included...
3. Social Media communication
- “Be aggressive, b–e aggressive!” Maybe this strategy works in sport or business but never on social media. Remember to not respond angrily or on a negative note.
- Don’t argue with customers and don’t be cocky by saying something like: “We would never do something like this!” “I’m sure your package got to you. I’ve sent it, after all.” Maybe you’re sure of your actions, but can you be sure of other employees, so be careful to speak for them.
- Decide on a communication form and stick to it. Are you a funny bunny on your website and in your emails? Don’t be afraid to be the same on social media.
Make your online communication smooth
Written word can be so easily misinterpreted. We fill in the blanks with our imagination and look for clues like smiley face emojis to tell us what mood the author is in.
As online communication doesn’t disappear like a verbal one, we should be more careful with it. We can’t be exactly sure how we’re received. But also, have a distance to what other people say. Many times we guess what other people say. We think they’re angry with us, or they don’t like us because they don’t use any emojis in their messages. Or we overthink that “dot” at the end of the sentence.
Let’s try to be more thoughtful and clearer in our communication. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and if you’re not sure of something, just ask them. Ask them what they mean, ask them if everything is ok. Understand all people have different ways of formulating their thoughts. And the dot at the end of the sentence is something that we all normally should do.
How do you feel about it?
What do you think about it? Do you sometimes have trouble understanding people? Is it easy to get into the argument because we twist the meaning of other people’s words?
Let me know in the comments how you handle it!