In a world where instantaneous communication is the norm, many people message each other as if they’re having an ongoing informal conversation. However, the fact is, most of the time, subtle nuances and cues can be lost in the Internet. You have to look no further than the flame wars in social media to realize that while we are sending and receiving messages from each other, we’re not really getting the entire message.
And that’s why it’s important, sometimes, to have a sense of formality or restraint. Here are some helpful ideas that can keep you one step back from a possible conflagration.
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E-mails were created in a time where actual snail mail was a major mode of communication. That being said, it’s important to remember that culturally speaking, many of the rules, formats, and templates for letter writing did carry over to e-mails. If you want to e-mail a client, for example, you can’t go wrong if you do it using a business letter template.
Admittedly, this is a two-sided issue, as on hand, e-mail’s inherent formality usually makes the conversation distant and lacking in “connection.” On the other hand, when you remove nuances from language, and keep it technical, e-mail is the best way to keep track of project communications.
If you’re using the Internet for business communications, this may be the best way to communicate and keep a record of all your transactions.
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When you’re online and carrying on a conversation through instant messaging, it’s easy to go one of two ways: either you become very familiar with the other person, or you end up being more formal. These two extremes can be negative issues with clients and business contacts, so what is important is to maintain a certain level of informality that that particular person would prefer. It’s for this reason that it’s usually better for people to meet in person first for business dealings.
Another thing to remember is that the act of chatting can be a distraction. It’s a good idea to ask the other party first if they have time to chat, rather than just send a message immediately – unless of course, you already have that level of trust with the person.
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Audio and video calls present a completely new problem that usually isn’t present in e-mails or instant messaging: ambience. When having a voice call or video call, it makes sense to find a place that isn’t too noisy, but if you’re in a video call, it also isn’t a good idea to look like you’re taking the call from a cubicle or a bedroom. Neither is it proper to look like you’re in overly casual clothes. Just like in an e-mail, the equivalent of formality should be present in the audio or video background.
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Conference calls, be it through VoIP, landline or online networks, can be a frustrating exercise in communicating by voice or video. With more than two people in the conversation, it may feel at times like all of you are dancing around each other, figuratively. It gets worse when you think that that people you called may not be the only ones in the room.
The proper way to approach conference calls would be to assume that it’s a presentation of sorts: you have to have a game plan, and you have to have your files ready (even better, you should have sent them the files before hand, so all you have to do is talk to each other about changes or edits). If you prepare for a conference call, then you will be able to answer all the questions the client can conceivably throw at you confidently.