We communicate by talking and writing across an array of channels. But at its core, communication is an exchange of ideas, feelings, attitudes and expectations.
According to Emily Murphy, a lecturer in business communications at the Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus, effective communication is like a negotiation that can be influenced by unintended barriers.
“The goal for communication is to create shared meaning. When I communicate an idea, I want you to interpret and understand it exactly as I do,” explains Murphy.
“Communicating only online is problematic because there are more barriers compared to face-to-face communication. When you rely mostly on emails, text messages and other written communications, you can misinterpret the sender’s message (and be misinterpreted, as well!). Tone and gestures are lost, creating fewer cues to interpret,” Murphy adds.
Practicing social distancing is important to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but it can interfere with the ways we communicate.
Remove barriers in online communications
So how do you overcome communication barriers when working and studying from home? Murphy recommends removing barriers by turning on your camera when reaching out to faculty and peers.
“During an online office visit last week, a student joined without his camera on. I asked him to turn it on, and as soon as we could see each other, it became much easier to talk and share information. I could see his smile and his gestures. It was almost like being in person,” shares Murphy.
Prepare for your audience
“Communication, especially during times of uncertainty or crisis, relies on good planning,” shares Brenda Bishop, associate faculty in business communications. She recommends you plan for your audience, even if it’s just one person.
“Your planning should start with the purpose of your communication and intended outcome. Ultimately, what do you want the person who receives your email or text message to think, feel, or do? Even if it’s a small request, you’re asking another person to act as you want them to. So you also have to think about the audience—even if it’s an audience of one.”
What does planning for your audience look like? Bishop explains that you have to think about how the audience’s lifetime experiences shape their communication preferences. This extends to understanding generational differences and what channels to use.
“When planning your message, consider what you know about the person receiving it,” she explains. “For example, if you know your Baby Boomer boss doesn’t regularly check text messages, you shouldn’t communicate by text—even if it’s more convenient for you. Not only do you need to be mindful of tone and style, but you also need to understand your audiences’ preferred channels of communication.”
Keep emails from misinterpretation
Email communication is often tricky because they can easily be misinterpreted, especially in tone.
“An email, intended to be positive, will be read as neutral. This is called the neutrality effect. A neutral email may be interpreted negatively, which is called the negativity effect,” explains Murphy.
So how do we combat these unwanted effects without adding too many exclamation points? Add personality and a touch of extra kindness while maintaining a positive tone.
“Say hello. Add please and thank you. Ask how the recipient is doing or state that you hope they are doing well. Expressions of goodwill and kindness go a long way in helping to keep an email from being interpreted as negative,” says Murphy.
Posted by: Sara Griffin, firstname.lastname@example.org