How to actively communicate online

by Betty Lochner on November 29, 2010

We all know that  nonverbal communication is important to understanding and being understood.  And studies have shown that over half (up to 65%) of our communication is non-verbal: our body language, gestures and vocal tone.

So what do we do about the most common way we communicate these days – online through email and social media sites? There are no visual cues, no voice inflection, no gestures or facial expressions to help communicate that critical 65%.

Without our non-verbal cues, we risk being misunderstood, or worse.

How do we deal with that lack of non-verbal interaction?

Here are a few how to tips to help you include some active communication, to help replace the lack of non-verbal cues, on line:

1)      Ask for reactions and feelings.

Write something like – “how do you feel about that” Or, “please let me know what you think  of my idea.”

2)      Don’t pretend to understand.

If something doesn’t feel right or you’re not sure if something is serious or not, ask! Ask for clarification, ask if it was a joke, ask whatever you need to ask.  Don’t assume that your understanding is correct.

3)      State what you want to have happen next.

At the end of the communication, make a call to action. What do you want the next steps to be. A reply? An assignment? A deadline? State the purpose of the message clearly, and then write something like “please do the following….”

4)      Use your “what” a lot.

Ask what do you mean by that? What do you think of this? What happened? What is next? What, what, what, can be your favorite clarifying word.

5)      Always, always, always re-read before you hit send.

Make it a habit to re-read everything before you send it.  Don’t be in such a hurry that you don’t proof your words, even with routine correspondence. It is very easy to leave out a word, or send a tone you don’t intend to send.  When you send something non-routine, have someone else also read it before you send it out. Here’s a bonus tip: sarcasm is never a good idea online – and please be careful with jokes or references to other people.

6)      Practice the 24-hr don’t over react rule.

If something you read makes you upset or unsettled, don’t immediately react. Give yourself some time. Wait 24 hours before launching a response. You will gain some perspective with time and then, have a clarifying  conversation face-to-face, if at all possible.


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.

To find out more about Cornerstone’s services and offerings visit our website:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

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