2. Know the Limits of Virtual Humor.
Some people show their displeasure with words typed in ALL CAPS and a barrage of exclamation points. Others, however, express dissatisfaction more subtly with sarcasm and satire. This latter kind is no less of a breakdown in the core EQ skill of self-management, and can be even more dangerous because it’s harder to detect. The sender can always convince him or herself that the spite was just a little joke. While a little good- natured ribbing can sometimes help to lighten face-to- face interaction—interaction with an arsenal of facial expressions and voice inflections to help you to convey the right tone—it’s almost never a good idea to have a laugh at someone else’s expense online. Online your message can too easily be misinterpreted without your body language to help to explain it, and you won’t be there to soften the blow when your joke doesn’t go over as intended. In the virtual world, it’s best to err on the side of friendliness and professionalism. For those times when you absolutely cannot resist using humor, just make sure that you are the butt of the joke.
3. People Online Are Still People (So Take the Time to Feel What They Feel).
While entranced by the warm glow of a computer monitor, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that a living, breathing human being will end up reading your message. Psychologist John Suler of Rider University has found that people who are communicating online experience a “disinhibition effect.” Without the real-time feedback between sender and receiver that takes place in face-to- face and telecommunication, we simply don’t worry as much about offending people online. We don’t have to experience the discomfort of watching someone else grow confused, despondent, or angry because of something that we said. When these natural consequences are delayed, we tend to spill onto the screen whatever happens to be on our mind.
Averting such messages requires you to be intentional in applying your social awareness skills. Without being able to physically see the other person’s body language or hear the tone of his/her voice, you must picture the recipient in your mind and imagine what (s)he might feel when reading your message as it’s been written. In fact, the next time you receive a curt or outright rude email, put the brakes on before firing back a retort. Taking the time to imagine the sender and considering where he/ she is coming from is often enough to extinguish the flames before they get out of control. Could the sender have misinterpreted a previous message that you sent to him/her? Could (s)he just be having a bad day? Is (s)he under a lot of pressure? Even when the other party is in the wrong, spending a moment on the other side of the monitor will give you the perspective that you need to avoid further escalating the situation.
4. How the Internet Feels ().
Emoticons have a mixed reputation in the business world. Some people and even organizations believe that smiley faces, winks and other symbols of digital emotion are unprofessional, undignified, and have no place outside of a high school hallway. When used properly, however, a Dutch research team has shown that emoticons can effectively enhance the desired tone of a message. The team led by Daantje Derks at the Open University of the Netherlands concluded that “to a large extent, emoticons serve the same functions as actual nonverbal behavior.” Considering that nonverbal behavior accounts for between 70 and 90% of a message when communicating face to face, it’s time to ditch the stigma attached to emoticons in the business setting. For those leery of dropping a smiley face into your next email, I’m not suggesting that you smile, wink, and frown your way through every email you write. Just don’t be afraid to peck out a quick semicolon- dash-right parenthesis the next time you want to be certain that the recipient is aware of your tongue planted firmly in cheek.