As our face-to-face interactions are increasingly replaced by online communications from email to social media, we lose the benefit of cues such as body language and tone of voice. In the absence of this additional information, it’s easy to misconstrue the meaning of an email or the tone intended for a social media update.

We’ve all been there. You check your email and there’s a message there that leaves you thinking “oh no, they did not just say that.” Or read a passive aggressive social media update that you quickly become convinced is directed at you.

There’s no substitute for the power of face-to-face conversation, but here are five ways to help make your online communications stronger and avoid experiencing a communications breakdown.

1. Know Your Audience

As you sit down to prepare your email, quickly check in and get connected with who the email is actually going to. How you present information to your peer and to the CEO will vary greatly. The busier the person, the more concise your email should be. Outline what you are writing about and articulate what is in it for them as soon as possible. The clearer you can be the more apt you are to avoid people missing details or getting off track from your true intent.

2. Check Your Tone

Tone is hands down, one of the most challenging areas of online communication, as it is largely absent. Instead of relying on emoticons to express your tone, focus on your word choice and the nuances of what you are saying. Take the time to re-read your email, and if necessary inject emotion words to convey your meaning. Saying you are happy, challenged or confused leaves little doubt as to your feelings.

3. Be Clear on Next Steps

Email is an amazing tool to help manage tasks, provide updates and more, but it is easy to assume that everyone is “on the same page.” Project manager Karen Sargeant recommends taking the time in your email to recap where you are so you conversation is in context, and then at the end outlining next steps. That way any issues or disconnects can be identified and dealt with quickly.

4. Take a Breather

Every so often a message, email or text will get on your nerves or worse yet, leave you seeing red. Instead of dashing off a hasty reply, take a breather and step away. Come back to it later to assess how to best respond in a calm and rational way.

You may find it helpful to re-frame things and look at it from the sender’s point of view. What can be a simple request may simply have been articulated poorly. Think about the sender and if they actually meant to upset you and you’ll quickly find that you may be reading too much into the email.

5. Pick up the Phone or Schedule Facetime

When online communications start to go off the rails, instead of continuing to try to hash things out by email, consider picking up the phone or scheduling some Facetime.  Make use of Skype or even a good old fashion coffee date to save yourself some time and energy instead of hiding behind the screen. Usually a 5 minute conversation can save hours of back and forth as as everyone tries to share their point of view or make their voice heard.

Giving more care and consideration to your online communications can help save time, energy and avoid hurt feelings in the long run.

What are some of your strategies that you help avoid communications breakdowns online? Comment below.

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