When you’re speaking to someone face to face, it’s easy to understand what they’re saying. After all, we don’t only speak with our mouths; we actually communicate using our bodies too. When face to face, you can read someone’s hand gestures, body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. All of this makes it very easy to understand what the person is saying.
Online it’s a whole different ballgame. When you’re communicating with someone via email, forums or even webcasts it’s not always so easy. You can’t after all read any of the above mentioned expressions.
However, by following a few simple rules you can make communicating on the net a whole lot easier.
#1 – Write clearly. It’s often difficult to write down what is actually quite easy to say. But writing in a long-winded way can be confusing to the reader. Instead, think about what you mean to say and write in short, clear sentences. Sentences dotted with punctuation can be read in a variety of ways and may confuse the reader – again, stick to short, clear sentences.
It also helps to close your message with a little humor or other “nicety.” This will help stop your overall message from appearing dry. It’s very easy for people to confuse direct and to the point with brashness when reading.
#2 – Learn netiquette. Online there are different rules of politeness. Did you know that writing in all capitals means your shouting? This is an easy mistake for a novice to make and one you’ll want to avoid.
Also, using too many exclamation marks can make your message appear irrational or a bit over the top, too. And on the other hand, very overly direct sentences without the use of humor may appear harsh or unemotional. Try to strike the balance between using expressive punctuation like exclamation marks and not using them at all.
You can also use emoticons online to express how you’re feeling – a happy face at the end of a direct message can make a big difference to the overall impression of the reader. However, if you’re writing in a more professional manner or would like your message to be taken seriously, too many emoticons, such as happy faces, may make you appear unprofessional or someone not to be taken seriously. Again, it’s all about striking the right balance.
#3 – Explain yourself. Particularly when dealing with colleagues and subcontractors it’s important for them to know right from the start that when you’re writing a business message you may do so in a very direct way. Ask them not to take it to mean anything other than what is written on the message.
This is a particularly effective strategy when dealing with virtual helpers such as writers or VAs. You simply may not have time to include a chatty message with each and every email. Explain that your direct messages don’t mean that you’re upset or anything – you’re just communicating about the job at hand.
These three rules will hopefully help you avoid many pitfalls of online communication. It also helps to keep in mind that sometimes you may read a message differently to what the writer intended. It’s always best to approach these situations with caution by simply asking the writer to please explain what they meant. The worst thing to do would be to go in all guns blazing and then realizing that you actually misunderstood their message – oops.