As the song goes… “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative, Latch on to the affirmative, Don”t mess with Mister In-Between”

Communicating over the internet presents itself with a whole new set of issues and problems. It demands a different skillset to the normal communication channels we use every day when talking over the phone or face to face.

What are these differences and how do we make ourselves clear and concise, so there is no chance of misunderstandings?

Forums, Messenger Services, Text messages or any virtual communication done with text brings with it different approach to getting your idea across but the communication formula is still there… Basically the formula of Communication is: Cause, Distance, Effect, with Intention and Attention, and Duplication with understanding.

There is the person who does the speaking (cause).

There is a gap between the speaker and the listener (distance).

This second person listens (effect).

With good intention from you and attention from the person receiving, the receiver of the communication will duplicate your communication and understand. That’s all there is too it

A few people have mentioned body language as a missing ingredient and while this is true, virtual communication via text is a different form of communication so the proven rules that we have used in the past, are not so applicable here. That is the first rule of thumb.

Start at a new place when you are communicating over the internet. You may be able to use the rules as experience, but to flatly apply them in this new environment will cause you some upset communication at times. We need to get back to this formula rather than using additives or helpers to determine if we are being understood

What is needed is to move beyond the body language and into two separate but very important areas. The first is that you must accept that words have meanings (and I just don’t mean definitions here either) There are common words that have different connotations throughout the world. So awareness is an important step here. You will need to become more understanding of others cultures and idiosyncrasies. The second is to have a look at the intention behind your communication using this medium.

When we have an idea we wish to get across in this virtual world, we type it out and submit it and then we wait and watch while another deciphers our words and then types back a reply. It’s a slow motion type communication as there is a greater length of time between the start of the conversation and the reply or answer. This is where the misunderstandings occur. We are impatient to get the communication across so we type our reply quickly without to much consideration. We think that it will be able to be duplicated by the other end but we fail to give it the true thought the reply or comment deserves.

We are trying to communicate using the face to face method and we aren’t face to face.

If you are seeking to improve your internet communication skills break your conversation down to simpler terms if it’s a serious topic. Don’t leave anything to chance. You want the other person to be able to duplicate what you are saying, therefore understanding what you said. If you have any doubts, then how do you expect the receiving party to be able to understand what you are saying? If you aren’t sure of something, clarify it by asking. There no harm done by saying you are unsure.

It’s interesting to follow along. The longer people spend with each other on a virtual time, the more chance there is of a failure or two. As the online relationship gets easier, it also gets harder to stay unbiased. It’s a true adventure. As time goes on, the both parties become less tolerant (even just a little) and the communication usually gets more revealing. A potent mix because in the familiarity there is less effort to check that you are clear and concise. The words you use may be a joke to you, but they don’t portray a joke to the other end.

Smileys and other images can be used to show emotion. Question yourself and ask are you explaining your emotions as well as the text of the conversation. It is doubly important to refrain from the ‘you’ sentence. Anything that is accusative is heading in the wrong way as far as a useful conversation is concerned over the internet. Saying “you are wrong” is a very straightforward statement but it doesn’t take into account that you may have misunderstood the other persons communication. You see how difficult this becomes. You have attacked the other person and you have it wrong. They may have written it in a unclear way but you are the one on the attack… it can backfire rather badly, especially if there are others who can join into the fray (like what happens in a forum) They read it differently to you and next thing you are the bad boy or girl because you attacked rather than clarified.

Stop before you go too far if you are feeling under stress or confusion. A comment made under those conditions can have everlasting effects. Remember that in a lot of the cases, you are writing in an open forum or space and that text message you write, can last for an eternity and be read by quite a few people time and time again so don’t leave anything to chance. If you are unsure… don’t. It’s as simple as that. You have time to think so don’t rush it.

This everlasting comment also brings along another type of situation. As you grow, the comment can come back to haunt you. A joke at one time can have an effect later on. These are just some points to consider before you go merrily away, posting comments and jokes.

With all this, I am not trying to discourage you. This forum of communication can be as rewarding as face to face (if not more) but the rules are different. Becoming competent isn’t a hard or laborious task, it does require some thought.

Sarcastic remarks are fine if you know the participants and are also willing to take the return gestures. The old saying always stands “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the fire”

Flaming (flame n. insulting criticism or remark meant to incite anger) just isn’t worth getting involved in unless you get your kicks from having people write terrible things about you. If you wish to find out more about this flaming, try this Guide to Flaming. This will give you an idea of the subject. Most boards will not allow flaming because it causes far too much upset and, let’s face it, there is no point, unless you want a lot of upset people. Something most boards wish to stay away from.

Netiquette is network etiquette, the do”s and don”ts of online communication. Netiquette covers both common courtesy online and the informal “rules of the road” of cyberspace.Be aware of the Core Rules of Netiquette as these are a basic guide to making your experience and others an enjoyable event.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If you find there is something going on that is upsetting, you do have a choice to ”not become involved” I have had many experiences where I have continued the conversation past where it was any use and, in the end, all involved get upset and you become the one who has the finger pointed at. I can assure you that the evidence is in black print there on the screen. One post too many and it lives on forever.

Some people try to undo their mistake by editing out their post and this only proves your guilt to all who read it. This is a good example of always previewing your post before posting it. Not only do you catch your spelling mistakes but you also have a chance to reflect on your emotions and reactions. Walking away is sometimes the best way of dealing with arrogant or disrespectful people. Let the moderators of the board deal with them. You will only become a participant in the flaming if you try to add your opinion about it. If you do make a mistake or post something inappropriate, take your medicine and apologize. Then ride it out. You have to be prepared to accept your responsibility and admit to your mistakes

As you can see, as communication over the internet increases, we all have to learn new skills to deal with this medium.

Taking your time, breathing deeply and checking your written work will save you many embarrassing moments. Ask yourself, how you would read it if you were the other person. Both sides of the communication formula are responsible for being at ease and forgiving of mistakes. If you don’t like what is written, clarify it. Maybe you are the one who has it wrong.

Most people who post on a particular board or forum have posted more than once, you can do your homework by checking their other posts. This will allow you to get a feel for their style. If you don’t like their style, then sometimes it’s just best to stay away.

I said before that this is supposed to be fun. I can’t stress this enough. Enjoy yourself and make sure others do too. This can be done by being witty, clever, humorous and incredibly bright without the need to disparage others. This way we all win

Until next week

Cheers… Bill

Bill Gray

Bill is a Business Coach. Working with Individuals, Businesses and Organisations to create better environments and to develop and enhance business ”potential”, into successful business practices.

Sydney, Australia

Ph +61 413 949 521

Copyright ©Bill Gray All Rights Reserved 2005.