What your girlfriend can teach you about online communication

“Chat?  That is for my teenage daughter!”  Yeah, right.  Only while you are busy pretending to be serious, she and her entire generation are learning communication skills you need to work on.  Some best practices to think about:

  1. It is easier!  From a scientific point of view it is well established that we use much less energy processing computer related situations than we do with face to face interactions.  You don’t need to constantly scan eyes, body language and all those other non verbal cues which are brains are optimized to scan through thousands of years of evolution.  Everyone keeps harping on about “stop emailing, get face to face!” but there are many situations which demand reversing that thought.
  2. Urgency indicators.  The great thing about modern technology is that you can, if you want, decide when to respond.  This goes for chat too.  As long as you let it.    Most people have a mental map of how urgent each channel is.   “Email for slow things, guess he will respond today or tomorrow maybe; Facebook chat for the quickies, if he is online, he should write back briefly immediately;  SMS for urgent, telephone for really urgent stuff.”   Make sure you are clear everyone knows how you prioritize them.
  3. Sort of not synchronous communication.  Telephone is live, immediate.  Email is not.   That sort of dichotomy however melts away if you think of a Skype call.  You might send a message like “is this a good time?” and then ten minutes later actually do the video part.   Or maybe some parts of the meeting will involve exchanging documents in the chat window and discussing them.
  4. Emoticons.    Do you know why there are so many?  Because we need them!  They are the fastest way to recover from a written statement which may be misinterpreted.  Emoji, Kimoji, whateveroji away.  You can put across emotional support instantly when you need it.  There is more diplomacy or even cunning power games in a well placed smiley than you could get through three paragraphs of artful writing.  In terms of filling in for physical presence they can help with body language, intonation, facial expressions or even alluding to touch.
  5. Devil in the details.  In terms of the girlfriend analogy of the title, this is the equivalent to a couple trying out news things.  Go to a different restaurant, pick an unusual holiday style.  Same with online chat.  I noticed today that in Viber you can change the background of the chat window.   Before you say “oh, just a silly gimmick!” try it out.  It changes your mood dramatically.  In fact every single messaging technology I have tried over the past decades feels different.  It puts you in a different mood.  Always try it first before dismissing it because some of the differences are very hard to explain.

I could add many other big or small items on my list, some would seem silly in a business context.  But they are important.  And much like any other communication, whether it is with your girlfriend or your boss, it is all about picking the right channel and the right time.

Don’t think about it.  Try it out.

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