Communicating clearly and effectively online can often be a challenge, and the surge in digital communication during the pandemic has increased the potential for misinterpreting messages. Without the verbal inflection available in oral communication, conveying tone through written communication is much more difficult. In the absence of these tonal clues, our brains fill in the gaps with our own assumptions, which may not match up with the intended meaning!
Furthermore, online messages can lack mutually agreed-upon expectations for how to communicate; in a face-to-face meeting there is an immediate back-and-forth exchange of ideas with the opportunity to notice body language and facial gestures, but when communicating online, the time between responses (and the recipient’s unwritten/unspoken reactions) can be much more ambiguous. This can lead to anxiety and frustration, which can, in turn, lead to a passive-aggressive tone-deaf dance of digital (mis)communication. Stress related to online communication can lead to general unhappiness in an advisor-client relationship, which can adversely affect client satisfaction and retention. This is a particularly important risk to be aware of now, with the skyrocketing rise of digital communication!
Two simple changes – clearly stating what is needed and offering a concrete time frame to work with – can make a huge difference in setting clear expectations and reducing any potential stress that would otherwise arise from misinterpreting ambiguous expectations. One effective method of setting expectations for responding to email is using an email signature to outline what clients can expect from you. For example, you could write in your signature that you only check email on certain days of the week or do not respond to emails after 4 pm. Additionally, it helps the recipient understand expectations when messages include explicit descriptions of what is needed, and a deadline for when they are needed.
In addition to setting clear expectations, thoughtfully setting up the appropriate tone in digital messages can also have a tremendous impact to help mitigate potential stress and frustration that can arise from digital communication. For example, you can use punctuation marks (!!!) or emojis (😊) to convey tone. For those who feel uncomfortable using emoji faces or lots of exclamation points in their messaging, recording a simple video message (so that the recipient can hear your use of vocal expression and see your facial gestures) can also be a way to communicate tone.
Ultimately, the key point is that effective digital communication can reduce stress levels for both the sender and the recipients of the message, as good digital communication helps the recipient understand what the sender is trying to tell them and what needs to be done, without the need for body language or vocal cues. Accordingly, working to make digital communication more effective by setting clear expectations and thoughtfully setting up the appropriate tone not only helps advisors communicate with clients more effectively, but also reduces the stress levels for both advisors and their clients as well!