A to Z of Soft Skills: O for Online Communication
We live in a world where we live more in the virtual world than the real one. We pride on the number of friends we have on Facebook and the retweets we get on Twitter. We laugh and cry, celebrate and mourn, outrage and praise – but we do it all in the virtual world. It’s world of communication devoid of expressions and gestures. It’s faceless and hence vicious at times.
“It’s only words and words are all (we) have…” to quote the popular Boyzone track. And we’ve done what we please with those words. We’ve forged new ones to make up for our lack of vocabulary, merged 2 words to suit new contexts, shortened long words and the less said about plight of punctuation, the better. And with shorter attention spans and limited writing skills, it’s not just the way we communicate but the art of writing itself which is facing the threat of extinction. (It’ll probably take just another generation for punctuation to become anachronistic)
While this is the state of affairs, we cannot forgot that a major bulk of our official/formal communication also happens online. By online, I mean all forms of communication that don’t involve face to face interaction – emails, chats, social media platforms. Even if we chat informally, there is no harm in being correct and respectful. So today’s post is about tips to make your online communication more effective.
Improve writing skills: People usually think that Twitter is an easier medium to communicate on because it has just 140 characters. But if you ask me, it’s a bigger challenge to express yourself in fewer number of words. Concision is a skill that is built with a lot of practice. And is more valuable when it comes to writing emails. Since words are our only tools of communicating, using the right ones in the right manner is critical.
Use emoticons?: The jury is still divided on this. In business communication, it is better to err on the side of formality. Rather than be caught ending an email to the senior director of your company with a smiley! With clients, get to know them better. Wait to see if they use emoticons and are comfortable with it. And if you are comfortable using them in your emails.
Watch your tone: It is easier for miscommunication to happen in written communication. The words that you use are interpreted by the readers depending on their experience and state of mind. Choice of words become even more important here. Moreover, when things blow up on email, it remains as written evidence that cannot be denied. So it pays to be more careful than less.
Never write when angry or upset: I understand that, sometimes, we just want to bite the head off people. And firing up a resentful email is the only way to get rid of our frustration! And this seems to be more of a cathartic exercise for us than for the trouble maker. But restraining yourself is the best option. If you really, really must get it out of your system, I suggest you type it out on a word doc and save it if you want. Review it the next day when you feel much better. Even if your main grouse remains the same, your tone will be a lot more rational.
Respond to every feedback: This is for companies that have presence on social media. There are times when we tend to ignore bad feedback and hope that it’ll be forgotten if ignored. But this will only irritate your clients further and might lead to a bigger issue. So if your customers write to you – goo or bad – respond and acknowledge. Promise action and promptly take the conversation offline.
Understand how each platform works: I mentioned this in my post – 8 tips on effective social media communication too. But this begs to be reinforced. Some means of communication like Whatsapp are more personal than say, Twitter – which is more social. Respect people’s personal boundaries. It is easier said than done but don’t send unsolicited forwards. I recently had someone I had met once in a networking event send me the link to his new Facebook page asking me to like it. And when I did not do it, he Whatsapped me again telling me to do it. First of all, the FB page wasn’t related to any of my interests. Secondly, it was unsolicited. And to top it all, forcing me like his page was really crossing the line for me.
Get offline: There will be several situations where writing a faceless email might do more harm. For instance, if you need to convey bad news or information that will not be received well. No matter how many options of online communication we might have, nothing can replace a face to face conversation. So choose those situations wisely and personally walk up to people to discuss your issues with a team mate.
We are in this for the long haul and communication is getting more and more virtual. It is in our professional interest to get really good at it.
Here’s a detailed post on how to write effective emails
I recommend an earlier post on this blog which covers the basics of online communication: 8 tips for better communication on social media
One of the best books I came across recently on business communication is Business Writing With a Heart by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston. It’s priced quite steeply even for the Kindle version but I am glad that I bought it. It is the most comprehensive book ever on written communication. It covers so many business scenarios and how to write well to suit them. It’s a manual one can carry along one’s career as a reference guide. Feeling stingy at the moment, you can always subscribe to Lynn’s blog which also has awesome content on business writing.
Writing skills get better with more writing. And reading is the best input that fuels this process. Make a routine of reading and writing and you will improve as you go along. Make a list of best practices and review it from time to time so that you don’t commit mistakes. Feel free to get in touch with me for any more questions you might have about the topic. I’ve been a soft skills trainer for more than a decade with special interest in speaking and writing skills. I’ll be happy to answer your questions.