If you partake with the internet (and if you are reading this, you do at least dabble) then you have no doubt come across unpleasant online exchanges in some capacity. Indeed, we seem to shift online more and more each year, and the pandemic forced even more of us to take the leap. We hopped onto the internet to see our loved ones, attend school, watch events, do our shopping, and try our best to “carry on”.
We are now relying on virtual communication more than ever, and there will likely be some permanent changes that come from this; some for better, and some for worse. I wanted to share some communication tips since sometimes, most of our interactions with a person will be virtual. It is still an exchange and I have found some ways to make it as clear and respectful as possible.
- Is the email you are sending your first time communicating with this person? Despite it being virtual, that message can still be considered your first impression upon someone. Is it a new condo owner, who has not settled into the community yet and needs guidance? Is it a contractor that is not familiar with the property? Is it someone that you will communicate with in the future, and hope to build a positive working relationship with?
- What is the message you are getting across in your email? If the topic is straying off course, consider clarifying instead of inviting more back and forth. Also, some matters are best dealt with in a call initially (i.e., do several people need to be copied on the email chain?). If the email exchange is becoming combative, it may be time to suggest a phone call and explain what you intended. Someone may be confused or read the tone of your email incorrectly.
- Read the email you are writing as if you will be receiving it. How would you interpret the tone, even if the facts are correct? How may it be construed? How may this impact a working relationship with the person if it may be received negatively? The person you are contacting may be in the wrong but coming out strongly out of the gate may not be the best approach.
- Words can be very loaded and have a strong impact off the bat. The words you choose can completely change the way communication is read. Can your words be softened, while still getting the message across?
- Keep in mind that just because almost anyone can send a text or an email, does not mean they are well-versed in how to use them properly. Some people use caps, many exclamation marks may be very short/curt, use underlines, bolded words, etc. all of which can come off as aggressive to the reader. Perhaps they are doing it intentionally, or maybe they really do not know better. Some people struggle to type, or there may be a language barrier. The “rude” email may be presented that way accidentally.
- Are your responses validating the person you are emailing or causing wider rifts? Are you empathizing, or putting yourself ‘in their shoes? The information may be a matter of fact (i.e., rules were broken and need to be addressed) but your emails should still offer support or options while backing up your point, especially if it is the first contact. If harsh responses come back, or requests are ignored, then it may be appropriate to use stronger language.
- If you are emailing about a problem, are you providing the person with a solution? Do you provide backup information with your requests? An email with this information may take a bit longer to write, but it may prevent further emails where they seek more clarification.
- Does your tone match the discussion being held (in-person or via email)? Every person is different and may require a different approach, yet everyone appreciates respect. If communication veers off and the person is no longer being respectful in return, then the method of communication can change. However, you should remain professional throughout.
- Is there a positive undertone in your communication, or may it be interpreted as overly harsh? Communication can be professional yet making a human connection often goes a long way in building a strong relationship with clients. It is much easier for clients to be critical of you when there is no connection made.
- Critical emails/calls are inevitable, and sometimes a stronger response is required for those. Yet not every piece of communication requires that same type of response. When responding to a difficult email, think of a nicer email you got, when your frame of mind was less frustrated. This is in addition to stepping away from an email that affects you negatively. It may help remind you that most clients are thankful or are not the ones complaining.
- Keep in mind that it is not just children who do not like to be told what to do; no one does! You may know more on a certain subject area, but no one likes to be spoken down to. Most people like to feel like they have some degree of control, so you can communicate a directive without being overbearing. Every person you talk to is also coming from a different life experience which you will not be privy to, and that may impact the conversation as well. Always being the commanding voice creates distance. A collaborative approach is often listened to over an authoritative one. If someone is harassing, threatening, etc. in any capacity (virtual or not) then that is different and is not the situation I am referring to.
- Proofread before sending emails and any communication. Typos can occur but mistakes do reflect onto you and can give the impression that you are rushing. If something requires a second set of eyes, that may be better than putting something out before having it reviewed.
- This is a takeaway for any communication…mistakes happen! Be sure to own up to them to rebuild any trust issues that may have occurred. If you are unsure of something, seek clarification. It is okay to not know everything; most people just want a response. Not everyone can be satisfied but coming to peace with that has helped me carry on with my day when I know I have done my best.
Sara Hicks,(she/her),B.A.,(H.), OLCM, RCM, LCCI
MF Property Management Ltd.