There are plenty of choices available today for groups to communicate online. Everything from simple discussion boards and forums to complex real-time collaboration tools. Regardless of the platform it is imperative that people understand how to work in an online group if effective communication is going to take place. Here are some keys to make sure that your groups communicate effectively with online tools.
Acknowledge That You Understand Others
How many times have you been speaking with your spouse, co-worker or colleague and felt like he/she didn’t understand where you were coming from? When you’re face-to-face, you can at least use body language to signify that you understand what the other person is saying. But when you’re online that’s a bit tricky (unless you’re using a video conferencing tool). When you’re having a group discussion online and particularly during a disagreement of some sort it’s imperative that you state what you understand the person to be saying before you make your counter-point. This, above anything else, will help ensure that the conversation will remain positive in the group.
Get to the Point Fast
One of the key things I’ve learned from reading email myself is to state the most important information first. Supporting content (or fluff sometimes) is good, but it needs to come after your main point. Especially with online group communication, you should deliver your key message in the first few sentences then back it up. If it’s important enough then people will read the rest of your message, but don’t beat around the bush. Our natural tendency is start telling a story to help frame the argument. In group discussions there’s not usually time or space for story telling. People already have a inbox that’s growing by the minute and an information stream that’s passing them by.
Give Examples When Explaining Yourself
Another one that’s important with in-person communication, but even more so with online communication is to provide examples when you explain something. Let’s say that your group is debating whether a Mac is better than a PC. You state that Mac’s are indeed expensive but they save you money over time. Don’t stop there! Give an example of how. “Well macs come with native software for email, contacts and calendar so you won’t have to shell out for Microsoft Outlook”. See there’s an example of me giving an example. Without telling part of a story or giving an analogy, your comments don’t have any legs and they’re just opinions.
Say it a Different Way
When you do post that long message/reply/comment make sure that you summarize it. Throw in a “In conclusion…” at the end or even a few bullet points. Particularly if someone has read a long message online then they need a re-cap. This will give you an opportunity to re-state your points and increase the chances of the group understanding what you mean.
Know When to Take it Offline
Sometimes the best solution for online group communication is to take it offline. Perhaps it’s best to just schedule a…meeting. I know, meetings are toxic according to some, but there will always be times where communication breakdown is bound to happen unless you get the group together in the same room. On the same account, sometimes you need to pay a visit to a person in the group. Don’t always hide behind email. If there’s any doubt in your mind that you need to speak with the group in person then do it.
I’m sure you’ve been a part of an online group. What were some of the keys that you experienced with those groups that communciated well? What about the ones where communication didn’t take place?