Effective communication skills have always been critical in the workplace. As more companies move to hybrid or fully remote models, they’re adopting new communication applications and platforms to keep dispersed teams connected. But having more channels to connect with coworkers and customers creates new challenges for professionals who need to constantly shift across these contexts—especially because those channels don’t always talk to one another.
New research from Grammarly shows that professionals have changed the way they communicate due to the pandemic. Nearly a quarter consider their communication with executives and managers to have become more “professional.” This trend toward formality could be the result of fewer in-person interactions and less familiarity with new coworkers.
This may be further complicated by the need to present oneself to many different audiences over a variety of communications platforms. From Slack exchanges to email threads to texts, each context demands varying levels of formality and depth of engagement—and can ultimately feel overwhelming.
Here are a few tips to ensure that your colleagues can understand what you say in the way you intend, along with some methods for staying empathetic when the occasional misunderstanding happens.
Capture the right tone
Shifting contexts and audiences sometimes means shifting your tone, too. Imagine that you’re talking to a coworker over a chat platform, writing with a casual tone, and using emojis, when suddenly you get an urgent email from your manager in need of an immediate response. The same casual tone you just used with your colleague likely won’t translate well to your email.
Here are a few things to consider when you need to shift your tone:
- Word choice: Consider the words or emojis (if any) that best fit your intention and audience. If you’re transitioning from a casual chat with a single colleague to a big thread with many stakeholders, you can avoid hedging language to convey more confidence.
For example, you can change that timid “I think we should” to an enthusiastic “Let’s!”
- Punctuation: Lack of punctuation in a reply can appear more casual. Not using punctuation may help with efficiency, but it also impacts the tone of your communication. Consider how formal you need to be with your audience. If you’re emailing rather than chatting, you may want to consider whether avoiding punctuation suits your communication needs.
- Empathy: Displaying empathy can help build positive working relationships. For example, you can show appreciation by using a phrase like “I appreciate your getting back to me” or demonstrate camaraderie with a phrase like “I’m always here for you.” When you’re engaged in a discussion with many viewpoints, you can start a message by saying “I appreciate your perspective” before jumping straight into a point of divergence.
Remember that we’re all in this together. If you find it challenging to communicate in a virtual workplace, other colleagues are likely navigating through similar challenges. Setting the right tone early can lead to more successful outcomes.
Keep your audience top of mind
How you communicate is largely determined by who you’re communicating with, so it’s critical to consider your audience. Emails are great for formal memos, like company-wide updates, while a messaging platform among colleagues can help build community and encourage real-time communication in a casual context.
With the number of available communication platforms rising, here are some considerations for thinking about your audience:
- Consider your reader’s circumstances: Is it your boss or a friend at work? Is your coworker starting in a new role or perhaps balancing work with childcare? Recognizing a person’s circumstances can help you craft a message that connects—and ultimately ensure it’s received as you intend.
- Anticipate questions: Thinking ahead to potential questions your reader may have can also help you plan your communication strategy and make necessary adjustments early. That will help your message resonate.
- Be yourself: Readers will be more likely to engage knowing there’s someone with shared experiences sending the message, and being authentic can help build genuine connections with others.
Finally, remember that details like sentence structure, the clarity of your message, and even grammatical correctness can make a big difference in how communication is perceived by your reader.
Great communication at work is consistent, clear, and engaging—and ensures your voice and work come across as you intend.
Here are a few tips for maintaining consistency from message to message:
- Mechanics and nomenclature: When communicating across different contexts to different audiences, maintain consistent capitalization, spelling, and acronyms based on the channel. If you’re referring to a project with one name over email, make sure you’re supporting reader comprehension by using the same name elsewhere.
- Objectives: Think carefully about your objectives. What are you hoping to get out of your message? If you declared one intention in a video meeting, stay true to it in your follow-up email.
- Style and polish: Consistency ensures what you’re writing comes across as polished and professional. Don’t be afraid to consult a writing reference guide—or even the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style—to find support for style best practices that will make your writing convey attention to detail.
Remaining consistent will also help streamline your writing between contexts and ultimately save you time in the long run. And while shifting contexts may require you to adjust your initial tone based on your audience and the formality of the conversation, it’s important to maintain your style within the new context through the duration of the communication.
Perfecting the context switch
It can feel like a big task to navigate all these communication channels while managing the switch between personal and professional communication. But small adjustments to tailor communication to fit each context and suit each recipient can go a long way.
If you’re still stuck, consider finding a digital communications tool that can help remote teams across multiple channels capture the appropriate tone and remain consistent in communication. It might help you and your colleagues to better reach your respective audiences and be understood as intended.
Regardless of whether you’re in an office or still working remotely, perfecting how to context shift efficiently will lead to better communication results.
What's your no. 1 piece of email communication advice? Leave your answer in the comments to help other FGB'ers!