December 22, 2018

Clear communication in a digital world

Reading time: 4 minutes

Approaches to ensure you’re communicating clearly and efficiently in a digital workplace setting.

A duotoned dark purple and beige version of the Apple 'person speaking' emoji, in front of a blue triangle shape in the top right corner of the image

Ever spilled your heart out in a text message only to receive the dreaded two letter response: OK. Ok… what?! Ok… good ok? Ok… bad ok? An anxious spiral ensues and you question everything and everyone you’ve ever known. You sit by your phone in hope they’ll send a follow up message to put you out of your misery. Not a phone call, a text message. You don’t want to actually have to talk to the person.

Do you ever stop to question your text message etiquette and habits? Or do you place unnecessary pressures on yourself and others when waiting for a response? How often do you really stop to think, before relying on muscle memory to type and hit send? (aside from deliberating over which emoji accurately depicts your mood 💅🏼).

In a digital society, portable technology is a direct extension of our fingertips. Mobile phones, computers, tablets and watches are our – often unfiltered –  digital voice. These devices convey every opinion, thought and action that we have. From a two letter response, to a well crafted multi-paragraph email.

Let’s explore this notion in a digital workplace – a space driven by written communication. We need to consider:

  • Audience: who are you communicating with?
  • Tool: what tool are you using?
  • Context: why are you communicating this?

A lot to consider, right? If we can’t master the humble text message what hope do we have in the ever-growing digital workplace?

Well my friends, never fear… The silver lining is: clear communication.

From my experience as a producer working in busy environments, I can’t stress enough how important clear and direct communication is in a digital setting, since you can’t physically see the recipients reaction to make sure the right message has come through. Remove the guesswork and inconsistency. Focus on sharing a clear and concise message. There’s no single solution. It’s something we have to constantly perfect and strive for.

These are some questions I find helpful to ask myself:

Audience

Who are you communicating with?

Voice and tone

What is your attitude and style towards the person you’re communicating with?

  • Do you have an existing relationship?
  • What type of relationship do you have? Are they a client, a colleague, a friend or a boss?
  • Are you building a relationship?
  • Are you consistent in your attitude?
  • Has your attitude changed towards this person?
  • Are you working for a company and is there a tone you need to portray? Formal, informal, technical etc
  • What do you hope to achieve from this? Are you asking a question, giving an answer, providing a direction?

Once you’ve established your voice and tone, pick words and detail that will portray this. Are you using a positive or negative tone? Are you informal or formal? Are you asking a question or giving a direction?

Mood

Your mood should reflect your personal attitude and style:

  • What is the feeling behind what you’re communicating? Are you annoyed, anxious, elated?
  • What is your personality type?

Remember, the mood you set is how the person on the other end should feel. It’s important to be clear and consistent with the words you choose. If there is a confused mood in your writing then it makes way for different interpretations.

Tool

What tool or platform are you using?

It’s important to understand the purpose of each of the tools you have in your digital toolbox and how to use them. Sometimes the purposes blur and that’s ok too.

  • Email – is this the main communication platform between clients and colleagues?
  • Team messaging – is this to share thoughts, ideas, and general discussion?
  • Task management – are you giving or receiving a direction?
  • Shared documents – what are you working on and with who?

Once you understand the purpose of the tool – use this to your advantage. Don’t confuse things and make it harder for your clients, colleagues and yourself by misusing a tool.

Consider this: you have a task to give a colleague. Is it wise to give the task in a team messaging tool (i.e Slack)? A platform where there are numerous discussions and threads occurring. There’s more room for error and for the task to get missed. Wouldn’t it be better to pull it out of Slack and into a task management system? Where you can have consolidated discussion around the task.

Context

Why are you communicating this?

Context is perhaps the most important consideration when it comes to clear communication:

  • What brought you here?
  • What have you done to get here?
  • What is the reason for this?
  • What do you want to get out of this? What is the end result?

To get the most out of your discussion – avoiding back n’ forth – provide as much context as possible. Not everyone is familiar with what you’re discussing. More often than not, they won’t have it at the forefront of their mind like you do.

Consistency is key. Be consistent in your message, voice and structure to avoid misinterpretation and confusion.

At the end of the day individual circumstances may vary and it depends on the context of your situation. However, I find answering these questions keeps my communication style consistent and concise. In sharing, I hope that you find them useful too! And remember:

  • Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone
  • You don’t need to respond to everyone instantly (unless URGENT is big and bold 😉), and likewise don’t expect instant responses
  • It’s ok to step away from your phone, keyboard or screen
  • Stop, think and reread before you hit send

But most importantly – be kind to yourself and others 💙

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Aimee Cowie

Wanna be tap dancer, annoyingly organised, to do list aficionado and digital producer. See what else I've written here.

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