3 pitfalls of online communication
Never in our lifetime has their been a more important time to stay at home; being apart physically while remaining close digitally.
At the time of writing (05 April 2020) nearly 50% of the world population is either forced or advised to be in the confinement of their own home. There are those of us lucky enough to work from home remaining employed while others are transformed into front-line heroes continuing the Coronacrisis battle on our behalf. Then there are those forced into unemployment, regardless as to which group you belong to many of us will have seen a surge in communication via digital channels and are having to adapt to new ways of staying ‘in touch’. Zoom powered toddler play-dates and digital coffee moments have become daily routines as private and professional meetings made a stark and instant shift to online channels.
If there is a safe way in which you can get your elderly connected please do. Besides the elderly, if in a position to do so, connect with those you believe might be less socially active at normal times who might now be facing complete isolation.
The inevitable of this situation is that we actually need to become more communicative, both written and visual, not just to stay in touch but also to remain sane. That said, moving social engagements online might be trickier for some than for others, with most of us not used to solely communicate online with a majority of our social and professional circles.
Many might feel increasingly overloaded as our days are filled with more information reaching us via digital channels. Skim reading being an existing and growing underlying issue in our ever more digital societies, this sudden surge could tilt the addressing of how we take on new information and communicate virtually the wrong way. All things considered most of us have increasingly sought to keep our digital approach to communications short and snappy. Yet as we are unlikely to have Zoom video calls with colleagues and loved ones throughout the day, it is written communication that becomes crucial to getting things done now and in the future.
I have no doubt that language is human kind’s greatest invention. Astounded by the sheer amount of knowledge that one can find on linguistics I actually had a stab at a venture in this space over 5 years ago (fuck-up stories are great to have I’ve been told). The versatility of non-verbal communication with someone while talking in person, where even the white of the eye plays a role in bringing our message across, is endless. The spoken word is very different to the written one, so be it visual or written online communication these are simply not as enhanced as in-person communication, VR developments aside.
Okay, so how can we be more mindful when it comes to our online communications now and in the future?
Although there are a thing or two that we could learn from 19th century love letters. Given my personal experiences* I wanted to briefly share my take and 3 things that I always try to keep in mind while communicating online. It pertains 3 pitfalls I have fell into and had to climb out again, bouncing back onto my digital horse. I hope by sharing my experience of how I remain mindful yet not to mindful that they limit my social engagement online, that we can together prevent a global mental health crisis as potential misunderstandings take flight.
- Online communication, both written and visual (2D), lacks non-verbal & emotional context:
Express feelings with more words than usual, also during visual online communication. Your usual in-person non-verbal cues might not be noticed! As highlighted in many WFH tips posts, there is no need to be afraid of over-communicating.
2. Your reader’s state of mind
Consider adding a short sentence saying that it is urgent yet best read at the beginning of the next day or that it actually isn’t urgent offering to follow up at a time more convenient to them, etc. etc. I.e. be slightly more considerate in an email to someone you’d normally have multiple face to face conversations with.
3. Online communication lives it’s own life
Visual comms example: start and end call with a proper personal approach, making sure everyone is comfortable to listen in at the start and with all that has been discussed at the end. This will get everyone fully into the call and fully out of it, without being left with a feeling of ambiguity.
Written comms example: Unless you’re Donald Trump on Twitter most of us will not want to upset people with what we write, tying in with the earlier mentioned mindful v limiting, highlighting the importance of swift proofreading even the simplest email.
Carefully crafting our online communication like handwritten 19th century love letters is not time consuming, when done routinely it helps all of us be more productive regardless as to whether it is for personal or professional purposes. Let’s all be considerate online citizens now that more of us than ever before are communicating with the majority of our social circles in digital settings. Hopefully we can take this as an opportunity to fully adjust to proper online communication as well as start reading more attentive once again. Building the emotional flexibility that a future in which technology developments accelerates requires of us.
Wishes of (mental) health!