July 2021
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TD Magazine

Curtail Chaos in Digital Workplace Communication

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Use conversation training to help employees find the balance in giving effective feedback.

Widespread adoption of Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, and other collaboration platforms in the workplace is just as pivotal as was the shift from landlines to mobile devices for personal use. These collaboration platforms bring instant and direct communication to the workplace. However, in the whitepaper Conversation Chaos in the Digital Age, Fierce CEO and leadership and training expert Susan Scott writes that employees need more than technology to have effective communication with colleagues.

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It's likely that remote team members have not had a single face-to-face encounter with co-workers during the past year. Scott explains that those spontaneous breakroom chats that many workers may take for granted can help build trust and rapport.

Further, she makes the case that computer-mediated communication is not a substitute for face-to-face interactions. "In fact, these tools can hurt communication by encouraging workers to treat their relationships like emails: one-way, directive, clipped and transactional," she writes in the whitepaper.

Without body language cues or the ability to detect the sender's tone at the same level one could in person, opportunities for conflict increase. Videoconferencing features can't fix conflict; instead, Scott says employees should provide direct, immediate feedback to resolve issues, whether virtually or in person. And she advises companies to help workers develop the skills to have quality interactions.

For example, individuals need to learn how to initiate the feedback. Opening the conversation with accusations, criticism, or judgment can lead to defensiveness and confrontation, Scott writes. "A more effective way to begin these conversations is to provide a fact-based, objective example of what you observed and then ask the other person to share their experience."

She encourages organizations to incorporate conversation training into onboarding, customer service development, and other major organizational initiatives, giving employees opportunities to practice their communication skills.

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She also adds that a big part of reducing workplace conflict in the digital age is for leadership to create an environment where employees feel comfortable saying what's on their minds.

"Amazing things can happen in a room, whether virtual or not, when people tell the truth. The key is learning how to describe reality from one's perspectives without laying blame," Scott says. "Rules of engagement: listen, stay curious, don't interrupt, thank people for speaking honestly. And mean it."

About the Author

Derrick Thompson is a writer/editor for ATD; [email protected]

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