So, for most of us associated with TMN, we spend a lot of time online. We communicate regularly via email, text and, perhaps most of all, posts on a community forum.
There's an art to "listening" as you participate in this type of communication as well. There are several key things to remember:
First, writing lacks verbal cues, such as tone, as well as nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and mannerisms. Estimates range that approximately 80 to 94 percent of the information that is gathered in a face-to-face conversation comes from nonverbal cues. So it is more important than ever to ensure that you give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume benign intent - you are missing a LOT of information when you read versus when you talk.
Second, though written communication gives you time to pause and reflect, that sometimes can backfire on you and give you time to brood and let your frustration take over. Be aware of when a situation is causing you a lot of frustration and do not let that frustration come out in your response.
Third, remember our discussion on perception a couple weeks ago? Perception plays a HUGE role in written communication. How I interpret your message is going to be based on my perception of you, your mood, your opinions and thoughts and your motivation in writing. If we are friends, I am more likely to read your email or post in a pleasant or neutral way, whereas if we have had contentious situations in the past, I am liable to allow those situations to reflect upon the message.
Finally, written communication causes a delay in the reaction of the other "speaker." You don't get the immediate nonverbal cues you would in a face-to-face conversation, to show that someone understands or is confused by what you are saying.
So what can you do to combat these particular written communication troubles?
First, take time to read and reflect upon the email or post. What is it saying at face value? Try to eliminate any preconceived thoughts about the writer and focus solely on the words.
Still having a tough time putting yourself in their shoes? Pretend the person writing the email or post is your very best friend. Now look at the words with that perception in mind. Does anything change? Do you see anything different than you did before?
If it is an especially contentious situation, sleep on it. You don't have to respond immediately (though it is important that you respond promptly!) and it is always better to have a well thought out and neutral response than one written in the heat of the moment that you may regret later. Remember, in a face-to-face conversation, your words might sting the person you are speaking with, but with written communication, your words are there, on the page, perhaps forever. Be sure that the words you write are the ones you are willing to let the entire world see: believe me, it has happened -- up until recently, you could do a Google search on my name and find several of my email conversations back and forth to disgruntled members posted on blogs and websites - fortunately for me, I have yet to find one that I have been embarrassed about or felt that I handled poorly. You never know when your words might show up again later, so be sure that they are words you can stand behind.
Lastly, if you are unable to respond in a neutral tone, or unable to step back from your perception of the situation or the person communicating with you, find some help. TMN has lots of support built in with many leaders willing to lend a hand if necessary. A mark of a good leader is knowing when you are in over your head and calling in the troops for assistance... none of us can do this alone! Its important to ask for help when you need it.
Communication skills, both written and verbal, are essential to a good leader. Take advantage of the time you have with written communications to reflect and ensure that your response is fair and impartial. Those under you will have respect for you, knowing that they can trust you to be neutral and fair in all situations.
For further reading:
You've Got Conflict - Email & Conflict Management (pdf)