Team communication hasn’t evolved with the growth of digital channels. This leaves us with an overwhelming amount of messages. Our behavior and expectations while using digital channels are the same as if we’re in conversation with someone in front of us. Thus we default to responding quickly instead of thoughtfully.
For many small businesses, the entire team depends on digital channels. We use email, direct messages, chat, workspaces, tech stacks, etc. It’s how teams talk, plan projects, and get feedback from customers, peers, and management.
Digital channels make communication fast and easy. Also making it easy for misunderstandings to occur. Online messages don’t always capture tone and nuance. So it requires extra self-awareness on how our message will be read by team members, peers, and customers.
Easy isn’t always best. Digital channels can’t replace needed face-to-face communication. Some conversations deserve a quick call or 1:1 meeting.
Bad Habits on Digital Channels
We ask questions in a hurry. Meaning we haven’t fully thought out what we need and thus confusing our colleagues or client. It creates an abundance of messages leaving people overwhelmed.
We share a stream of conscious thought. Because of this, we drag out conversations with multiple messages instead of being clear and concise. This creates delays as recipients try to figure out what we need and how to respond.
We’re connected 24/7. We don’t walk away from our phones like we do our computers. This creates more messages after hours. This “always-on” mode contributes to stress and burnout for ourselves and others. I’m guilty of this.
Why Does This Happen
My theory is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when our thoughts don’t match our behavior. 10 years ago our phones were primarily used for synchronous conversations. Allowing us to immediately connect with someone else when they picked up our call.
Now phones offer many asynchronous communication methods including SMS, DM, Slack, etc. We rarely call someone anymore even though we’re still using a phone. The cognitive dissonance occurs because we’re still using our phones and expecting an immediate (synchronous) connection. Except now our team members and colleagues aren’t sitting on the other end waiting to respond.
Technology evolved and we’re mentally playing catch up.
Improve Team Communication on Digital Channels
What would happen if you changed how you viewed digital channels? Instead of viewing SMS, DM, Slack, etc. as real-time conversation view them as postcards. With postcards, we don’t know when it will be read and whether we’ll receive a response. It’s asynchronous.
By changing our expectations and behavior, we can improve our communication. Making it easier for the other person to respond, take action, and/or include what we need.
8 Communication Practices
Effective team communication starts with us. Here are 8 practices to implement.
- Clear: Review your message. Does it make sense or do you need to reword something? Can a 10-year old understand what you’re asking?
- Well thought out: Is your message a stream of consciousness? Or are you specific in your request?
- Properly formatted: Use paragraphs (2-3 sentences). Avoid run-on sentences. Use bullet points. If they were to skim your message, what do you want to make sure they don’t miss? Highlight it or make it bold.
- Filter: Is the message necessary? We’re so quick to hit send we overlook whether the message is of value. Does it make the project or relationship better?
- Include all pertinent information: Include links or attachments as necessary. If you need them to make a choice, present them with options.
- ✅ “I’m available Mon 5pm or Wed 3pm, which one is best for you?”
- 🚫 “When are you available to meet?”
- Tone: Talking to a confidant in person is not the same as using company property (email, DM, Slack, etc) to vent and gossip. Nothing good comes from it; as shown by numerous leaked screenshots. This includes sarcasm and short replies: “per my last email”
- Professionalism: Understand any business communication can be shared without consent. This underscores the importance of why communication needs to be professional at every level. You have less to worry about legally (liability) and reputationally (brand risk) when you lead with your best.
- Boundaries: As a leader sending messages after hours signals others should be available and working too whether intentional or not. Responding to messages after hours encourages the “always-on” behavior and contributes to burnout. Boundaries allow you and your team to get needed rest to be refreshed for the next day.
When implemented these 8 practices make it easier to get answers and reduces the volume of messages. 2-3 messages are better than 10-15. By being more thoughtful and thorough in our communication we get some of our time back.
Chat and Direct Messaging
“Slack affords levels of inclusion and transparency email simply doesn’t. With email, the original author gets to pick who is included in the conversation and whose voices won’t be heard. That’s not the company we want.“Steph korey, away
This sounds good in theory, but it’s not practical in execution.
- Constant interruptions (pings) detract from focus, creativity, and productivity.
- Too many cooks in the kitchen lead to delays, no accountability, and lack of progress.
If inclusivity is a problem within the organization, then have the appropriate people on the project or committee. Everyone doesn’t need to be included.
The quote sounds more like the opportunity to micromanage than be inclusive. Micromanaging doesn’t help anyone at any level do their best work and grow.
If you use Slack or a similar service, create channels with intention. More channels lead to increased disruptions and decreased productivity. Channels where teams primarily vent and gossip negatively impact performance and morale. Instead, encourage team members to redirect their energy to creating solutions and developing skills. Where people focus time and attention is what grows.
Communicating with your recipient(s) in mind improves the conversation. Better communication allows everyone to perform better. Imagine how much better your team and clients would work with fewer messages to sort and respond to?
What practices do you have for team communication on digital channels?