You Talking To Me? Online Communications Considerations

Communicating is a tough gig. Once you’ve nailed down what you want to say you need to consider how you’re going to say it. Your tone, use of words, and body language all make an impact and when you start removing these cues it just gets tougher. Now, there are even more things to consider in addition to generation, gender, and learning styles, there is jargon and communication methods or channels.

Take age – it’s no longer just the youth and the adults you need to consider, now, according to Econtent magazine’s article “The Generational Divide” there are four generations in the workforce, each with different values:


Baby Boomers

Generation X

 Millennials (or Generation Y)

  • Loyalty
  • Patience
  • Mission
  • Respect
  • Teamwork
  • Long hours
  • Hard work
  • Recognition
  • Competence
  • Ongoing learning
  • Informality
  • Feedback
  • Achievement
  • Structure
  • Collaboration
  • Mission

Wikipedia explains the generation distinctions as:

Gender is another well document variance. According to Dr. Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California in San Francisco and author of The Female Brain in a Canadian Living article, women have 11 per cent more neurons governing language and hearing then men. And it isn’t just about brain circuitry, according to an article on Microsoft’s site “6 tips for bridging the communication gap”. In general terms:

  • when women start projects they ask a lot of questions, men just start – then men think women aren’t up to the task
  • women tend to use anecdotal or relationship stories while men use sport or war terms
  • women try to build relationships and consensus while men like to take leadership
  • women get details to show involvement and understanding while men want only enough detail to get the big picture
  • women tend to talk more about feelings while men like facts and statistics

Understanding learning types is critical if you want to transfer knowledge. There are three basic types of learners:

  • Visual learners (let me see it)
  • Audio learners (tell me again)
  • Kinesthetic learners (let me do it)
  • And of course a combination of any two

Then there is jargon relative to a role, industry or company. Just check out some of the sites explaining IT jargon: Top 10 IT Jargon You Love to Hate (slide show) on Network World; IT Jargon Busted; and IT Jargon Buster. But when a communications person asks an IT employee for something and they are told “we can’t because of the firewall” the communications person just hears “No blah, blah, blah” - like that Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson on “What we say” and “What they hear” – with “they” referring to dogs, who apparently only hear their name and blah, blah, blah.

The way in which people receive information can impact how receptive they are to it. Different generations prefer different methods, for Millennials instant messaging and social networking sites are the norm but Baby Boomers are less comfortable with text messaging and traditionalist prefer face to face. Therefore, one method will seldom reach all audiences; consider the variety of communication methods and channels:

  • Email (pushed out but maybe overloaded)
  • Enewsletters and RSS (pulled in but is it relevant)
  • Websites (if you find it does it speak your language)
  • Social networking/communities  like Facebook, LinkedIn (who else is in the community)
  • Collaboration – e.g. Wikis (is it pre-populated by subject matter experts
  • Consumer generated media – e.g. blogs, YouTube, Slideshare, rating/rankings (can it keep visitor attention after 10 seconds)
  • Customization and Personalization – e.g. bookmarking, portals, RSS (what are the choices)
  • Mobile Devices -  e.g. ringtones, images, weather, news, maps, direction, twitter, buddyping, text messaging (is it legible in small format and interesting)
  • Instant Messaging (do you understand the lexicon and abbreviations)
  • Print (also static – think of all those PDFs online)
  • Face-to-face (usually refers to in person but teleconferencing is effective)

There is a lot to consider when communicating and it is important to match the message to the medium and the medium to the audience. Don’t assume because you have a website that everyone can hear you – Generation Xers and Millennials probably won’t know of your existence. If you don’t have any imagery -  a visual learner will move on. If you use jargon or acronyms you’ll lose people at the beginning of their search. And if your message isn’t interesting, why bother? Even dogs are trained with audio and visual cues, as well as a treat or two.

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