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Digital Communication Guide

From Ignored And Impersonal To Deeper Relationships

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Do you remember those days where you knew exactly who would be in the room for a meeting? Or the moment you raise a hand to knock at a friend’s door, on the fly, just to see what they are up to? Or when you had no choice but to see someone face to face to tell them something important? Digital technology — laptops, smartphones, and the Internet — changed all of that. The options for how we can connect with one another have multiplied.

How do we build relationships in today’s world? How can we use these tools to our benefit and not our detriment? Studying Millennials, seeing what they do well and what has not gone well is a great place to start to learn how best to communicate in a digital world. Rachel Isgar, author of #Next Level Manners: Business Etiquette for Millennials, and I want to share with you the top behaviors and practices to keep in mind to build strong relationships in our global world. Welcome to Communication 4.0! Let’s take a look at three methods of connecting today: texting, email, and video conferencing.

Texting in the Workplace

One of the most misused, and consequently, damaging communication tools is texting. We would like to think that texting is an equal substitute for speaking our minds, that it’s just a short-cut. But this isn’t the case. Because of its convenience, fast pace, ease of forgettability, abruptness, and lack of tonal data, the chance of the message getting lost and misinterpreted is very high. The confusion, a lot of times, can come from the ambiguity around how much data to provide. Some of us may express our every emotion, thought, feeling and frustration in text messages leaving the receiver quite confused. Others simply don’t respond to direct questions if they don’t feel like it! Both harm relationships. Here’s some tips that work:

  • Brevity: Keep it brief, concise, to the point and easy for everyone to understand. If you are texting a future boss, employee, co-worker or even a peer, you are never 100% sure how different individuals will interpret your message.
  • Avoid Acronyms: While brief is important, be careful with acronyms and shortened words. Reading a message that says “Wut r u up to? Burritos FTW” are better saved until you know the other person would in fact, be able to understand your point. People generally don’t like feeling like out of date and don’t want to spend their time Googling acronyms. This is especially important if you have a foreign background — shortcuts in language can lead to quick judgments of your capability and character that you may not like.
  • Avoid Scrolling and Be Patient: On the flip side, sometimes we overcommunicate. Wait for a response before sending more data. While it might feel easier for you when you have a lot top of mind, sending a deluge of messages with many questions or thoughts can leave the receiver feeling overwhelmed. *Extra Credit tip: If they have to scroll, it’s probably better to send in an email or to pick up the phone (yes, you CAN do it!).
  • Don’t Ghost: Always respond to questions or invitations sent to you. Don’t treat texts like something you can ignore! This can make the sender feel undervalued, rejected, or unappreciated. They may also question your reliability or trustworthiness. Respect every text for what it is: a fragile gift of someone’s desire to connect with you. A simple, polite I’m not interested or I’ll get back to you later is exponentially better than sending no response.
  • Quick Check-Ins: Do use texting for checking in with people. When you have a large network, texting can be a convenient way to bring warmth to someone you don’t see often or don’t have the time to connect with deeply.
  • More Than Words: Do use advanced features of texting such as voice messages, sending videos, and sharing images. Voice messages particularly can allow for longer messages, while providing a lot of intimacy and warmth, while also being convenient — the receiver can listen whenever convenient to them and the sender can send when convenient as well.

Business Email

Email didn’t simply replace receiving letters in your physical mailbox, it created new ways and times for us to communicate and is still a relevant tool. Whether you are trying to schedule a time to meet, take notes, send documents, or stay in touch with your network, email helps you to spark new and deepen relationships. Here are some ways to build those connections with class:

  • Express warmth: Start with a greeting or add a personal touch. If appropriate for your goal, take on a conversational tone. Being all business when you have ample space for connection is a missed opportunity.
  • Avoid Monologues: Be concise with what you write -no one wants to read a novel! If you have more data you want to provide, use the main body for the headlines and a brief introduction to the topic. Then, consider attaching a document with the full details or letting them know the full details are “below the line” and add a separator.
  • Be Patient: Email response can come within minutes, hours or sometimes even days depending on the situation. Being aware of this is SO important. If your message is important, urgent, time-consuming or personal, it may be a better option to just relay that message face to face or pick up the phone and call, rather than get frustrated or wait around.
  • Consider Your Response Time: Remember that the reverse is also true. Your response time sets a precedent and communicates something about you and the way you work. Do you respond to an email with thought provoking questions you just received in 10 minutes? Do you let logistics emails fall through the cracks and take ages to respond to the point where the action may no longer be relevant? Do you promise to send something or get back to someone only to never get to it? Each of these says something about you.
  • Essential Info: Also, make sure you have a great signature line! Name, email address, phone number and sometimes website URL are all great information to add! Don’t forget to spell check.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is huge in making the world smaller and far off relationships flourish. Unlike texting and email that run independent of time, video conferencing requires both parties to select the same time to meet. While it may be difficult to get calendars aligned, video conferencing is the next best thing to meeting face to face. Here are some ways to make sure your meeting is a success:

  • Focus on Them: Look into the camera when you are speaking. Look at their face when they are speaking. It’s easy to get distracted by our image on the bottom of the screen; we tend to stare at ourselves more than the other person. Tip? Cover your face up with a sticky note or index card.
  • Minimize Distractions: Put your phone on silent, turn your instant messenger off, and turn any other sounds off. Don’t look at your phone during a call. These distractions easily make the other person feel like you don’t value their time.
  • Minimize Tech Issues: Make sure to show up a few minutes early to minimize and resolve any technology issues. The worst is when the first ten minutes of a meeting are spent figuring out how to get your mic on or to hear the other person. Test the screen quality, Wi-Fi, microphone ability and eliminate glitches and freezes. Remember to wear headphones to reduce feedback and increase sound clarity. Mute yourself as appropriate. If there is more than one person on a call, the greatest sound clarity occurs when people are muted when not speaking. Also, if you are typing notes, keep yourself on mute — those sounds will translate!
  • Collaborate Live: Experiences together build trust and intimacy. Use collaboration tools to maximize building relationships during video conferencing. Share your screen if appropriate or co-create documents live using tools like Google Docs. Whiteboard or mindmap together.
  • Start with Check-Ins: Don’t forget to start and end with personal greetings and asking what’s going on in their world.

Texting, emailing, and video conferencing don’t have to be impersonal or worse, damaging to your relationships. In addition, these practices are not just for individuals. There are many ways to apply these tips as you think about your organization’s communication externally, such as for telehealth, call centers, chatbots, and recruiting talent. We are all in charge of figuring out how we can build relationships effectively!

What else would you add as ways to build strong relationships with today’s tools? Any horror stories you’ve experienced? Comment below!

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