In these times of voiceless and faceless online communication, words can make or break us. Written words shared with strangers can either mend or offend. Whether it is customer service, emailing, text messaging, or internet dating, our words can be the kiss of death.
There is something to be said of the old adages: “you always catch more flies with honey…” and “Do unto others…” Let’s face it – we all want to be validated and treated with respect. Most of us know how to effectively deal with situations up close and personal – in the workplace or of a personal nature, but, I think we have a need to examine some points of protocol for online communication. By giving attention to this, perhaps the exchange may result in a satisfying experience for all parties.
Writing is subjective and ambiguous
People have a tendency to “hear” what they think they are reading. Writing can be as maddeningly subjective as Law or the Bible. You can text a “yep” to your loved one and that “yep” can be misconstrued in so many ways.
Therefore – kindly use restraint – don’t bring your individuality into the writing. Put away your emotions, opinions, attitudes, and moods during the work period. You wouldn’t want any of those areas of your persona to be reflected in your writing.
There is an art to being vague. Evasive people practice and master it. But, in writing, you become a valuable messenger if you use direct and correct communication towards resolve. What you say has to be what you mean. Something that is ambiguous usually leads to big misunderstandings. Such as, “Joe saw the girl with binoculars.” Did Joe or the girl have the binoculars? So, how do we avoid these pitfalls?
Clarity is essential
- Use clear and concise language, be precise, and choose your words carefully; cast no gray area. Do not leave any room for misinterpretation. Your awareness of this basic rule will expand your writing to an improved level.
- Refrain from using slang or cultural expressions. With slang, what one person “gets” may be offensive to another, while cultural expressions may leave a reader flat, confused and unclear.
- Don’t take sides nor speak for or against anyone. Stick to your professional script and stick to the facts of the matter. Never allow yourself to be lured into giving opinions or relating to other stories.
There are no smiley faces allowed and no “lols”. Try to imagine how many people would not be speaking if not for those emotions posted on pages, giving our brains subliminal permission to laugh, cry, or react otherwise. So, once you offend – you cannot mend. There’s no backtracking. Unfortunately, in a split second, a reader forms an envisioned, negative impression of you and you may not get the chance to reframe that vision.
If necessary, repeat back what the client is trying to convey. Mirroring back language is a highly effective form of communication – and all parties benefit. It’s a strategy used in couple’s counseling, wherein couples learn to “hear” what their partner is saying by precisely repeating back their partner’s words. This technique will clarify the objective of the communication and will also produce a comfort zone for the client, within the knowledge that he or she is being accurately heard.
Don’t presume and don’t judge
One never knows the whole story. Avoid treating all challenges with a cookie-cutter approach. Don’t presume that all clients are created equal. We don’t have a clue as to what emotion or mission is driving that particular person on that given day.
If you don’t cloud your thinking with preconceived notions of the reader, you will avoid interjecting negative thoughts and feelings into unknown areas and situations – before knowing all the facts. Applying this good-business strategy changes your perspective and how you respond to people. And besides, one never knows exactly with whom one is communicating. A smart business person will treat each individual as if he or she were speaking to a highly-regarded official.
A helpful tip – if you assume that the person you are responding to is a close friend trying to provide assistance or advice, you are more likely to view feedback favorably and give an upbeat or optimistic response.
Remaining void of judgment also adjusts your attitude and approach toward the voiceless and faceless reader. This strategy helps one to focus on the humanity of the situation. These are real people on the other end. With real problems. It’s not abstract. They exist…and they have feelings and they are all flawed; just like us. One can display humility and still remain constant in professional standards.
Note – This is the first of a 3 part series on how to communicate effectively online. Next week: “How your humor and remarks can be the beginning of the end.”