If you’ve ever found yourself pacing around your room trying to decide whether to end a text message with an exclamation point or a period (or maybe no punctuation–edgy!), then you are intimately familiar with the scarcity of signaling in virtual communications.
As Keith Ferrazzi writes for HBR, we feel even more clueless about communication online than in person because of the paucity of contextual information available. Take work, for example: If you are having an all-hands meeting, hiearchy will be represented by the way people order themselves (CEO in the center, interns on the roof). These signals are not available during a conference call–which is probably why you hardly ever hear the folks lurking via phone pop in with a question.
So, Ferrazzi says, we need to supply some signal. He tells us how:
Speak the same language: Even if you are all culturally identical (most firms replicate themselves, after all), there will still be a modicum of diversity in your language patterns. Ferrazzi says that being down with your Myers-Briggs types can help us learn each other’s languages. Another option is to try to meet people to person and just listen to them, and use that context later in written missives.
Give ’em more signs: “Nothing is ever obvious,” Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote for Fast Company, “unless you made it obvious.” To that end, spell things out: Instead of leaning on generalities like “circle back to me,” actually provide precise instructions of the next step.
Respond quickly: Even if only to say that you’ll reply later, shoot a note over now. Ferrazzi says that since we have little clues for context–aside from that timestamp–waiting a long time to reply can make people feel like you don’t value your relationship with them, which sucks. So be prompt.
And getting your emails read? That’s a whole other inbox.