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Tips for leaders: using digital and online communication tools effectively

By Margot Smith FIML

So often when there is a dispute at work (or in life) it comes down to communication. But more modes of communication should mean that we get it right more often, yes? Not necessarily.

In this increasingly digital world – it’s more important than ever to make sure we do our best to communicate effectively. And effective communication is a real leadership skill – getting it right could make the difference between getting the outcome you want and not. So it’s worth fine-tuning these skills.

Understanding the many and varied online and digital communication tools

When we say online and digital communication what do we mean? It’s an ever-growing list, but let’s say: email, telephone, videoconference, instant messaging or chat, and text at least.

Keeping in mind that when we are face to face with someone, communicating your message is conveyed as follows: 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and only 7% words.

So if we’re talking email, and we are reliant on the words themselves – that’s a mere 7%. As we change mediums, we slide up that scale in terms of how much more context the recipient of your message gets and how effectively we get our message across. But it can still be fraught with challenges; room for misinterpreting tone, body language or context.

Communication is a bit of a minefield, and is the culprit for many a relationship speedbump!

Tools for the times

The current circumstances mean that we are all using online and digital facilities much more than usual. For those of us who are fortunate enough to be working from home, technology affords us convenience, but we need to ensure it’s not at the cost of relationships and connections. Hence we need to use them in the right context and be careful that our communication is effective in doing so.

And particularly right now.

That’s why I’ve listed five tips for effective online and digital communication:

  • Build a strong relationship offline.
    Doing this ensures your online message is received as intended. (This is the most important rule).

    I find the stronger my relationship with someone, the more latitude I have with the words on the page, tone of voice and, even, body language. For those times that I need to deliver a message online that is difficult – I need to hope I’ve done the groundwork on that relationship.

    If that’s not possible and it’s a new contact that you are building a relationship with, then build rapport by practising active listening. Be ‘present’, listen with all senses, paraphrase what they are saying and use your body language to demonstrate that you are concentrating on what they are saying (this might even help you if you are on the phone).
  • Use the right mode of communication.
    Tools such as WhatsApp have been around for a while now. Their speed, ease with communicating with few or many, and ability to share photos and memes mean that they are a great tool for keeping in touch. At IML we use WhatsApp frequently – great for sharing team wins, organisational updates and team photos.

    But if you’re sending lots of messages, is text or instant messenger the appropriate medium? Sometimes the answer is yes (in an effort to minimise emails or to get an immediate and short response). But if you’re writing an essay via text then maybe consider swapping to phone or email.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.
    Are your instant messages, texts or emails blunt? Read and re-read it to check it’s ok as a stand-alone message. If you were reading it, would it come across ok? Does it serve its purpose?
  • Conduct yourself as if you were face-to-face.
    If you are visible on videoconference – concentrate – no sneaking a look at emails or texts. It will send the message that you are not focussed on the meeting. This tip should apply no matter the mode of communication – to be honest you can tell when someone is not concentrating in a teleconference too.
  • Use it to build and maintain relationships.
    These tools help us keep in touch and stay connected, especially when we can’t be in the same room. Instant chat or messaging, videoconferencing, phone and similar modes of communicating are all great ways to connect. Just remember that building and maintaining relationships is key to any leader. So, use all the tools in your toolkit!

Margot Smith FIML is the General Manager – Strategy & Partnerships at IML ANZ. She is currently mastering the use of instant messaging apps, videoconference, phone and email to manage and lead her team who are spread across three different capital cities.

Communicate with clarity

In times of crisis, we cannot choose our circumstances but we can control the way we respond. That’s why IML ANZ is offering all managers and leaders a Virtual Masterclass on the ‘Communicating with Clarity in Times of Crisis’.

This online will provide you with a ready to use action plan that you can implement in your workplace. Visit the Virtual Masterclass page for more information or to register.

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