How to Avoid Virtual Miscommunication

Guest Blogger Miranda Allan ‘15

We have all fallen into the trap of technological miscommunications. An ellipsis here, an exclamation point there, and suddenly a harmless conversation via text escalates into an argument. What has happened here?

As discussed in the Harvard Business Review, miscommunication occurring on technology’s many platforms emerges from a lack of contextual evidence which hitherto we have relied upon in conversation. Body language leaves little room for error and is sacrificed in virtual conversations. To compensate for this, especially in the workplace, writer Keith Ferrazzi suggests being slightly more heavy-handed in tone. Save the subtleties for face-to-face interaction; on the internet it’s best to assume that any slight ambiguity will be misconstrued.

The article offers six overarching tips to prevent confusion. First, empathize with the person at other end of the conversation. Would you understand your email? Are there environmental or psychographic constraints at play? The old adage of “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” would not go amiss here.

In a workplace, it is also important to be aware of your coworkers’ different communication styles. If at the first meeting your team explains preferences, tendencies, and even past miscommunications, it is less likely that you will run into communication issues.

Furthermore, be aware of what is known as signal amplification bias, or the inclination to believe you express yourself clearly, despite what others may feel. It is unlikely that you could be overly explanatory, so give yourself permission to push past what you believe is adequate transparency.

Different mediums have different implications, so be mindful that you are using the right form of technology to convey yourself. You wouldn’t fire someone over text, so you should know that some virtual forms of communication are more appropriate than others.

Be prompt with your replies. No one likes waiting around for an answer, especially on business matters, so don’t make others wait either.

Lastly, due to the prevalence of communicative technologies in our personal lives it is easy to see where unprofessional or sloppy emailing originates. A business environment is not the place for casual language, which can give off the impression that a worker is not taking his or her responsibilities seriously on top of likely leading to miscommunication and errors.

Are you taking notes, Elon? We communicate virtually with many different offices, professors, organizations, and even off-campus businesses, and we want to ensure that our information is conveyed as seamlessly and clearly as possible. So, keep these tips in mind the next time you rattle off an email.


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