Ten Ways to Communicate More Effectively through a Screen

December 20, 2022
Communicating Through Screens Blog Photo

Baylor Clinical Assistant Professor Allison Alford shares her best tips for navigating virtual communication in a post-COVID world.

Ten Ways to Communicate More Effectively through a Screen

The COVID-19 pandemic may be receding into the background, but virtual communication is here to stay.

Allison AlfordAllison Alford

“These days, it is a given that professionals have facility with platforms like Zoom, Teams and Slack,” Allison Alford, a clinical assistant professor who teaches an executive communication course for the Online MBA program at Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, said. “This is what their employers expect from them.”

But it is one thing to navigate the technical elements of a virtual communication platform and another to communicate in a way that resonates across a screen. Whether an employee is sending an email, hosting a video call or chatting via instant message, each communication is an opportunity for strategic impact. Without a plan for success, it will be a missed opportunity.

Here are Alford’s top ten tips for reaping the greatest benefit from virtual communication:

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Effective virtual communication takes far more front-end work than you might expect. Before sending an email or logging onto a video platform, carefully consider your goals. Think about whether you are seeking to convey a routine message, crisis communication, apology or message delivering bad news. That will determine your strategy. In crafting a routine message, for example, you should get right to the point. When writing an apology, lead with a more empathetic tone. Once you have decided on a strategy for crafting your message, you will be far more prepared to meet your goals.

2. Do not surprise people

When it comes to having tough conversations in a virtual setting, take the time to set up the conversation ahead of time. The other person should have at least a vague awareness of what you will discuss. Never blindside employees with critical feedback or major decisions.

3. Maintain professional boundaries

The pandemic blurred the lines between personal and professional life in a way we have never witnessed as a society. Be careful not to conflate the two. You can still be personable without sharing private thoughts, feelings and information that are inappropriate or unnecessary in the workplace. Instant messaging channels seem casual, but your employer owns the digital record of everything you type. These conversations matter.

4. Bring extra energy to video calls

When communicating through video calls, it takes far more effort to engage others and make a positive impression than it does in person. If you do not bring extra energy to the call, you may come across poorly without realizing it. The people who communicate most effectively on video compensate for the differences in video versus in-person communication by emphasizing their tone and body language. You may feel slightly drained after putting in this kind of effort, but it will reap dividends.

5. Do not underestimate the importance of camera setup

If you are spending any time on video calls, you need to consider camera setup. Start with maintaining ample lighting. The camera will not adequately pick up your facial features in dim lighting, and the image might be more pixelated. Consider camera angle as well. The most effective video conversations make the person on the other side of the screen feel like they are having a conversation at eye level. Make sure the angle is straight on, not up or down. If the camera is angled downward, the audience can feel like they are being talked down to.

6. Change your ratio of “I” to “you” language

Many people sit down to write an email in a way that focuses on what they want and need. Without thinking about it, they write a series of sentences that start with “I.” Instead, think about what the recipient wants and needs using “you” language. Simply by going through an email and replacing “I” with “you” language as much as possible, you can shift your paradigm and dramatically increase your effectiveness.

7. Eliminate filler words

Whether in speech or in writing, using filler words like “I hope,” “I think” and “I feel” only diminishes the quality of communication. Women and younger employees tend to use these filler words more often, inadvertently highlighting differences in gender and age. Write with concision and power to level the playing field.

8. Respect other people’s time

Respect people by communicating in a concise way. Say what needs to be said and nothing more. An email is not effective if it is so sparse that the reader has to follow up with a list of questions, or if it is so padded with unnecessary detail that they get lost in the weeds. Think also about individual members of your audience. If you have something to contribute to an email chain that everyone copied needs to know, hit reply all. If not, take the time to send separate communications to avoid misusing other people’s time.

9. Give the gift of presence

Show up for people through strategies like mirroring their tone and responding to their emails in a timely way. Give them your full attention during meetings to convey the importance of what they are trying to communicate. It sounds simple, but presence makes a tangible difference in employee retention and outcomes.

10. Keep your emotions in check

Communicating with emotional intelligence hinges on the ability to sense other people’s emotions, as well as controlling your own emotions. If you are leading a video meeting and someone has an annoying distraction in the background, be careful not to let that irritation ruin an opportunity for connection. Maintain your composure and lead by example with effective emotional regulation.

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