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Context: We come from our millenia of experience of human face-to-face (F2F) communication skills. These skills were rooted in more than our linguistic ability. They included our ability to interpret and respond to non verbals such as tone and body language. They reflected the visible context in which we communicated. We talk differently at home to our best pals than we do to a stranger on the street. We whisper in hallowed halls, and shout across a busy street.

Now we are online in a new evironment where we can build upon many of our offline communications skills, but where we also need some new ones. Or at least new translations of the old.

It is useful here to stop of a second and think about the similarities and differences of online and offline communications.

  • We don't have body language in the way we are accustomed to.We may or may not have images and sound - often only text. So our writing has to express tone and body language.
  • We have VOLUMES of information and input that is often available all at once. We don't have the limitation of "being in one room and listening to one person at a time." It is all there. Now. How do we scan and comprehend through volume? How do you meaningfully read 100 emails?
  • Our sense of sequence and time can be expressed in new ways. We have synchronous and asynchronous (not online at the same time.) We have people who log on frequently and those who log on once a week - completely different patterns in one group interaction.
  • We can take time to think before respond online in asynchronous environments. This allows people with different communications and learning styles an option to pause and reflect, encouraging different forms of interaction.
  • While online interaction has been rooted in text, today there are more options for audio, video and images, asking for a new set of skills to create these forms and to take them in and make meaning with them. How do we best "listen" as we read or view a video?


Some useful practices:
  • Write/blog daily
  • Pay attention to clear writing and "plain language."
    • Short sentences
    • Jargon free
    • Active verbs
    • As direct as possible. (i.e. edit out formality and flowery language unless it serves a specific purpose)
    • Reframe to clarify others' postings/language
  • Read/vary reading "diet"
  • Test new ideas and practices
  • Draw
  • Record (audio/video)
  • Summarize
  • Listen

Discussion starter questions:
  • How can you write in a way that expresses the context we often express F2F in our body language?
  • Where can you imagine integrating more visuals for greater communication clarity in online discussions?
  • How do you role model and encourage plain language writing? What are the cultural implications?