Leap Year Lesson #313: Understand the Difficulty of Online Communication

Posted: November 12, 2012 in Communication
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One of the online conversations today at work dealt with the differences between face-to-face and online communication.  It should be obvious to most that there are major differences between the two, but our actions don’t always indicate an awareness of those differences.

For example, when we are physically present with others, we have the benefit of not only hearing the words they say, but we can hear their tone of voice, we can see their facial expressions and their other body language.  All together, we make a more informed decision on what the person is communicating, taking visible and nonverbal clues into consideration.

Contrast that with how we communicate online.  We are mostly limited online to typed text on a screen, void of any tone or physical clues that help with understanding.  Yes, we have the option of emoticons – smiley faces, frowns, etc. – but even with those we don’t know for sure the intent of the person who typed them.

The trigger for this thought and discussion today was when someone commented on a thread in a manner that I thought was unnecessarily argumentative.  When pointed out, the person went back and added “#kidding” to the post.  I’ve had enough people complain to me about similar situations over time that I posted that I still consider many such statements as intentional jabs that people try to then pretend are not jabs by adding some cutesy icon or hashtag.  By then, however, the criticism is inflicted.  You may as well take a knife and stab it in someone’s back and then try to cover the puncture wound with a yellow smiley face sticker, pretending all is well and that you’re best buds.

Communication face-to-face is hard.  Communication online is infinitely harder and requires more skill and forethought and care so as to communicate clearly, making up for the lack of visual and nonverbal clues the medium necessarily omits.  You may know exactly how you intend a comment to come across, but that is no guarantee that the characters on the screen adequately communicate that intent.  Go the extra mile to communicate clearly online.

Leap year lesson #313 is Understand the difficulty of online communication.

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