At one time or another, we’ve all gotten that text, email or instant message from a colleague that made us question everything. Even though we know it can be difficult to convey tone in writing, we still may analyse every word and punctuation mark trying to find clues. Along the same time, we may also find ourselves struggling to get our intended message across in our own digital communication.
According to Erica Dhawan, an expert in connectional intelligence, 75% of communication is body language, yet 70% of professional communication is virtual. “These days we don’t talk the talk, we write the talk,” she explains. In her LinkedIn Learning course on empathy in communication, Dhawan provides the following strategies for translating communication skills into an increasingly digital world.
Pay attention to any digital signals in your message
Of course word choice plays a major role in emails, and that’s something that is likely (hopefully) already on our radar. But there are many other types of digital signals that can impact how your communication is received that you could consider before hitting “send.” According to Dhawan these include “response time to a message; your email signature; who you cc, forward or bcc on your emails; the order of email recipients on an email; switching from one medium to another; [and] the use of punctuation, abbreviations and emojis.”
Punctuation is more important than you think
We’ve already gotten into why certain types of punctuation (or lack thereof) can seem more aggressive than others, and this is certainly true in professional communication as well. For example, by paying attention to your use of periods, questions marks and exclamation marks, “you can use these signals to communicate your authentic feelings,” Dhawan says. When you clarify which emotion you are trying to convey, it can help you avoid a colleague misunderstanding your message
Identify any requests
If you’re asking someone to do something, don’t make it a guessing game — especially if the message requires a next step. Dhawan recommends reading your messaging and asking yourself: “Does the recipient know if this is an opinion or an action request? And is it clear what to do next?”
Get to the point, while still being clear
With everyone’s inboxes bursting at their digital seams, be respectful of a person’s time (and your own), by keeping your emails brief, but also very clear. For example, if you ask a colleague two different questions in an email, and, in a rush, they respond with a simple “yes” or “no,” you may not be sure which question they were answering. According to Dhawan, “these brief messages cause confusion, misunderstanding, and could easily tarnish your relationship with your colleagues.” So whether you’re sending a request or responding to one, take the time to make sure you’ve addressed everything clearly and concisely.