Communicate online: don’t forget your manners
Today we spend much more time talking online than at any time in the past. Unfortunately, as we become more familiar with these new communication platforms, it is easy for us to forget the rules that we adhere to in the ‘old’ communication platform. (Just to remind you, that’s when two or more people came face to face, stood a meter apart, and sometimes even started with a handshake.) Small talk for building reports. We asked how each one’s day was going, we talked about the weather or some other current topic; In short, we would make a person-to-person connection before we get down to business.
In the online world, however, it is as if the levels of formality have changed:
Our visual presentation has become more informal. Level C negotiations are now conducted in shorts and thongs, and it appears that even visible clothing (upper body) has become more casual.
Our conversation has become more formal. It is as if we believe that online communication time should be more productive. You’ve wasted the first ten minutes of your hour-long meeting just connecting everyone correctly, so no time for small talk!
This is where we can severely limit the quality of our communication and the chances of any negotiation being successful. Northwestern University professor Janice Nadler found that the subtle relationship-building behavior we naturally slip into in face-to-face communications is often overlooked when we appear as talking heads on a screen. Their research in conjunction with Michael Morris (Columbia Business School), Terri Kurtzberg (Rutgers Business School), and Leigh Thompson (Northwestern University) showed that spending just five minutes in small talk resulted in negotiations where participants were more cooperative, sharing more information. They made fewer threats and developed more confidence.
Recently, I was organizing a meeting with several attendees. As is typical practice, I saw early arrivals go to the waiting room until, just before the official starting time, I let them into the meeting. Then I felt guilty when I compared this to a face-to-face situation. Would you keep early arrivals out until start time? No, that would be rude. I would invite them in, congratulate them for being early, start making connections. So now I remember my manners. I greet people who come to my online meetings as they arrive, allowing time for small talk. In short, I remember my manners and make better connections online.