Saturday, April 25, 2009

InternEtiquette - Part II

Good day, everybody! It's a beautiful Saturday morning here in Orlando, Florida!

Continuing the mission of spreading good manners and kindness in our online world, today's focus is on:
  • Enhancing your online written communication to avoid possible conflict
  • Watching the content you post; mind your readers!

To start, let's have a look at an example: I am writing to you, whether it is via e-mail, instant messenger, blog comments section, Facebook, Orkut or any other social medium: "I think you did the right thing" You probably know what I am making reference to when I write this to you, however, you don't really know how I am telling you this. Am I confident in my words? Am I rather skeptic? Maybe I am happy? Notice that I didn't use punctuation in the sentence on purpose. You don't know how many e-mails I receive with no punctuation. It's almost like a written nightmare. Without punctuation, you run the risk of total misinterpretation. Let's not get into grammar coaching here, but I cannot emphasize enough how important commas, exclamation and question marks or periods are. I was perplexed when a high school counselor e-mailed me an email with no greeting and closing note, and no use of punctuation! Uff! Enhancing your words with adjectives, adverbs punctuation and "visual words" helps your reader understand how you are expressing yourself in your written delivery. It helps your reader "listen to your voice" when he/she reads your mail.

"I honestly think you did the right thing, without a doubt in my mind!" conveys the full idea: What you want to say and how you want to say it.

Instead of replying to an e-mail by writing: "That's a good start. Keep it up.", write: "I think the first ideas you showed in your table are a wonderful way to start the project. It gives it dimension. Keep up the good work you demonstrated in that table and the bullet points below. Let's bring more content to it, though." People can't read what your entire thoughts are, and while assuming is something we just have to do on a daily basis anyway, if you are expecting a 2-way communication to be truly effective, make sure you enhance your written e-mail communication.

Time should never be an issue here. It takes just a few more seconds to add words, explanations, "smiley faces" and question marks. In addition, by taking 1 additional minute to write it out, you'll be saving time later on not having to explain what you meant in the first place.

Once I wrote an e-mail to a training manager. It had about 2 small paragraphs with a few questions and thoughts I had. The answer I received was (and I will never forget my reaction to it): "Call me as soon as you can." Was he upset? Was he in a huge hurry? Was he at least somewhat happy about what I had sent him? I was confused by the too short and almost rude answer. I didn't know what to make of it. On the phone, soon after, our conversation was delightful! Had he sent an enhanced e-mail, he would have been able to communicate with me much more efficiently and avoid any misinterpretation!

Second topic: Watch the content you post! I read a comment someone posted about certain presentations being "so lame". Not only did this person insult all the other classmates who share the same social medium online and who were actually presenting on that day, but the content posted created a "did you see what So&So wrote?!" type of online gossip. Now, that is something we all don't have time for. A friend of mine decided to blog about her "dumb colleagues who think they know it all" and wrote a paragraph about one certain lady. The lady ended up reading it, and my friend's reputation was drastically affected. Negatively, needless to say. She had to apologize by blogging about it. Another one commented on a certain holiday being "so fake and consumption driven" and "a waste and ridiculous", not taking into consideration that others in his own tight circle celebrate it all the way, and love it. What are you trying to do to yourself, I ask? I never advocate against critique, however, it can always be done in a kinder way. There is no doubt about that.

Remember, nothing is ever totally deleted in our world wide web.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Hello Denise,

Let me to kick off by saying that you are just the same joyful and passionate person here on your your blog, as the one I know in person! Whenever I read your ideas, they are always filled with “visual words” and punctuation, helping to transmit appropriately your passion for some things, but also your disappointment for others. Well done! It proofs that you are so right about the need to properly express ourselves with all the means available in writing, when people cannot see our facial expressions and gesticulations.

While reading all posts on your blog, I had a few “brain sparks”. Allow me to contribute to your points with a few comments of my own, in no particular order.

I wish the word “Integrity” started with the letter E, so for the sake of argument, let’s just call it “E for Entegrity”. The Internet has allowed for mankind to make a gigantic leap in terms of communication and information sharing, but at the same time it has also tied it down in a physical way. We can do so many things at a click of a mouse button, without even moving our body more than two feet. Personally, I am a huge fan of that and the flexibility that comes with it, but only if it is done with the right balance of exercise and other physical activities and a “local net” of friends and acquaintances. On a negative point, it has also enabled for many people to operate behind a facade, where they believe they can hide their identity. With that, “Entegrity” can “go down the drain”. It’s as if people don’t believe that they will be held accountable for what they write, about whom they write and in what tone they do it. And it shows that there is an identity that you build up through the internet, which is just as important as “our physical one” - if not even more important because of the rate at which we establish new contacts, people who don’t know our personal history and attitude. In the case of your friend, she ended up needing to apologize publicly if she wanted to build a positive image for herself on the Web after committing her “faux-pas”. Apologizing was definitely the right thing to do, but the incident might not be “erased” for quite a while (as you point out by saying “nothing is ever really deleted”).

There is one thought I had, which you didn’t touch on, and that is cultural difference. The Internet brings a huge amount of very diverse people together, and with that different languages but also cultural habits. We both grew up amongst many different nationalities, and even incorporate “bits” of several different cultures ourselves. With that I am personally constantly confronted with the different ways how different cultures express themselves. That, I believe, contributes to a lot of miss-understanding as well. “Call me as soon as you can” turned out to be something more along the lines of “I am so excited about the questions and ideas you sent that I have to tell you personally what I think!”. Maybe he was also one of those busy people that didn’t have time to type, but prefer to talk. (Personally, it is so much better some times to just pick up the phone!) But coming back to the point, my own reaction, had I been in your position, might have been a total lack of Etiquette combined with a: “Well, if you want to speak to me then “bloddy” pick up the phone yourself!”. Certain cultures might have found his request to “call as soon as possible” as too direct and even rude. I suppose my point is that knowing the culture your communicating with adds a totally new dimension to understanding sometimes. In this case, your training manager probably didn’t mean any harm, but should have thought about your feelings and expectations in relation to his feedback.

This brings me to an Arabic expression a very good friend of mine very recently told me about. Don’t ask me to quote the exact wording, I would get lost in a language I have absolutely no knowledge about. The meaning of the expression, she basically explained, translates to “how important it is to consider the other person’s feelings when saying something to them”. And how the words can not only hurt or negatively affect the person’s state of mind but also the relationship with that person after that event. For myself, the saying translates into how important it is to not only selfishly say what we think, but think twice about how we say it or how we put it in writing, and finally how it will affect the other person’s feelings and possibly even change the relationship to them. This can be applied to personal as well as professional relationships.

But then, and this is probably my last thought for now, I personally believe that “a bit of conflict” is not bad either, when it comes to communicating and sharing ideas. I do believe that criticism should be made in a constructive way, but sometimes the direct approach can be quite an effective one. Provocation makes people “jump to their feet” and defend their position, it makes them work harder for their belief or position, or it makes them possibly even realize that they actually got it wrong.

I’ll finalize on that note, and invite for others to “provoke” with new comments and ideas.

Denise, thanks for creating this space, I plan to be back soon and read some more.

Bye for now. Karen E.