No sooner had I aired the dirty laundry of my wedding dress debaucle and its story riddled with poor communication, than the Santa Clara University Alumni Association published my third Illuminate piece. This one’s about – hey! – digital communication!
Little things count: how you punctuate texts, how you type your smiley faces, and how you close an email. Now that everyone’s “online” (whether it’s email, Facebook, or mobile phones), we’re all suddenly always connected. As your circle expands to connecting with wider ranges of people, you end up noticing idiosyncrasies per age group. Old or young, everyone does something weird and probably annoying. Here’s how to not be that “n00b”:
- Are you over 50? If you’re like my mother, texting is the feature that turned your phone into a necessity. You probably group text with in-the-know peers, but that probably also means you over communicate with people incapable of bowing out of the group thread. (Also, the formal letter format of your texts, while charming, defeats the purpose of a short-form message.)
- Are you a twenty- or thirty-something? You must think you’re pretty hot stuff, but rolling your eyes when friends say they’re not on that “Hot New Thing” is elitist and condescending. It’s not a sign of being a forward-thinker. That “Hot New Thing” may shutter in a year. Rather than be ahead of the curve, you’ve just proved that you’re gullible for anything celebrities are paid to tweet.
- Are you still in college? Yeah, you’re of that age where every commercial development is trying to market at you because you’re influential, but that does not mean you’ve graduated yet – neither in schooling or life. Learn how to write to adults. Don’t email a hiring manager with an opening of “Bros,…” or indirectly cite your mother as a thought leader with “Well, my mom said I could work from home…” (Both have happened in my experience as a hiring manager and neither of them got a positive response – or any response at all.)
- Do you email people for work?Learn how to CC. Consider this a bonus tip for digital communicators of all ages! Remember back in the group project days, there was that one person who didn’t give their availability so you could never get the work session in until the last minute? “Reply to All” can be a power move to cut down on confusion, and allow every person involved to stay informed passively. It can also be a tool for mass destruction, turning private altercations into virtual public scenes. Use it wisely.
I’ve got a couple other e-communication tricks up my sleeve that people compliment me on. Here is my treasure chest:
- When someone email introduces you, thank them by moving their address to the BCC field. You get your appreciation in, and then you and your new acquaintance can carry on without your friend getting stuck in a sea of planning for the first meetup that they are not invited to.
- Bullet points. Numbered lists. Yes, I write lists in emails and in texts when I need questions answered and things to get done. It may sound taskmaster-y, but it works.
- Brevity. The more you write, the more you give to others to pick apart. As a general rule, if I end up writing more than two paragraphs to cover my thoughts, I turn it into a phone call. It’s like my junior high science teacher said: “KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.” (Pretty sure he meant “Stupid” rhetorically. Let’s hope.)
- Don’t be the first to use emoji. You just never know.
Now excuse me, I have to go text my mom, email my team, and IM my student interns.