On the face of it, we seem to be communicating more now than we ever have. Technology allows us to always be connected to our family, friends, co-workers, clients, and even people we only know online.
In our professional lives, communicating by email, text, instant messaging, and video chat has its benefits. The flexibility, mobility, and speed that these tools give us have improved aspects of our work lives, for sure.
Unfortunately, there are also downsides to communicating through technology. We’ve probably all experienced misunderstandings, confusion, mistakes, frustration, and conflict because of the misinterpretation of things we’ve said online.
With more and more people working remotely at least part of the time, it’s becoming more and more likely that we’ll run into these kinds of technology-based misunderstandings.
The good news is that with a little conscious effort and some subtle shifts in perspective, we can prevent or quickly resolve many of these communication issues when working remotely.
The more information we volunteer, the better. Providing quick updates on a regular basis to your teammates and supervisor is a helpful habit to develop. It can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming that everyone has the same information that we have. Better to confirm everyone is on the same page before misunderstandings start to pile up. Checking in before launching into a conversation can prevent confusion – “Did you see that update from Ted?” “Did you read that email from Kim?”
Give people context.
Sarcasm and bad moods don’t translate in a text. It’s hard for recipients to know if we’re joking, stressed, distracted, up against a deadline, or exhausted from just the words on the screen. If there’s something going on with us, we can let people know. Without context for our messages, people can incorrectly read between the lines and come to inaccurate conclusions.
Assume good intentions.
Just like our readers might jump to conclusions, we can misinterpret the messages we get from others. Before we let our anger or frustration take over, though, we can pause and remind ourselves that in most cases, people mean well. They have good intentions, even if the way they expressed themselves might not be very tactful.
If it’s complicated, confusing, or conflicted, talk in person.
Picking up the phone or hopping onto video chat can save a lot of time. No endless back and forth with messages that drag things out. No time wasted reading and re-reading a message trying to interpret what the sender meant. Talking directly with our teammates can also spare a lot of hurt feelings. Seeing their faces and hearing their voices reminds us that we’re working with other human beings, not just staring at impersonal words on a screen. We’re more likely to treat each other with the respect and professionalism we both deserve.
Make sure to have all the facts.
Remember what happens when we assume? We might think we know all the details, but we could be missing crucial pieces of the puzzle. Context is everything, and if we don’t have it, we could find ourselves making decisions based on incomplete information. Even worse, if it’s an emotionally charged situation, we could do or say something we regret later.
Ask open-ended questions – and listen.
When we find ourselves having a disagreement with a co-worker, we can ask open-ended questions to draw out more information. “How…,” “Why…, “and “What…” questions help, as does, “Tell me more about that.”
The more we rely on technology to communicate with each other, the more likely we are to find ourselves dealing with some drama caused by misunderstood messages. With a few simple adjustments and a willingness to generously dig a little deeper, we can sidestep those pitfalls.