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5 Common Online Communication Styles and How to Work with Each

communication styles and moods in a series of portraits

By Kendall Kiyohara

With millions of people suddenly thrust into working from home, online communication and collaboration is more essential than ever.

In many cases, this is a good thing. Well run virtual meetings have been shown to encourage creativity and productivity, allowing people from across departments and time zones to work together efficiently.

Communication technologies—email, chat, text, video conferencing, phone calls—all help bridge the gap, but the nuances of face-to-face interactions and body language clues are lost, to varying degrees, when we connect digitally.

As in real life, awareness of communication styles is very helpful for effectively managing  online teams. Here are five common types of online communicators, and some tips on getting along with each.

The Over-Communicator

Did you get the email, the Slack message, the update, the follow up email, the message on your voice mail? The Over-Communicator always has new info, details, and ideas that they urgently want to share.

In a remote work force, over-communication may be an attempt to demonstrate productivity. But there is such a thing as too many updates, and now more than ever, everyone’s time is at a premium.

If you supervise an over-communicator, you can politely and directly ask them to stop updating you so frequently. If the communication is important but too much, too fast, consider having them consolidate everything into a report at the end of the day so you can give it your focused attention.

If they’re a peer, you may be able to ignore or filter their communications. For example, you can create a filter in Outlook that will automatically send all their emails to a specific folder that you check at your own pace whenever appropriate.

The Joker

Every other response from the Joker is an animated gif or an emoji. They fill the team chat with funny cat gifs and their video chat background game is intense. It may be that the Joker is using humor to cope with stress and uncertainty. That’s often welcome and usually not a problem, until it is.

Understandably, standards of professionalism are bound to shift when so many are working from home. This is especially true when people are getting very little social interaction, and the lines between coworkers and friends may be more blurred than usual.

For leaders, inappropriate jokes can lead to bad behavior in a chain of unintended consequences. Among people tasked to work together, the Joker can be a distraction and cause frustration for people trying to get things done.

If you find that you are the Joker, it may help to reexamine where the line is for your team or company. If the group is overall pretty casual and is okay with having some fun, you may be in the clear. If you’re not sure, it may help to ask a trusted coworker to tell you how you’re being perceived.

If one of your employees is the Joker, and it’s getting a little out of hand, as their supervisor or manager you have the standing to tell them to stop.

The Night Owl

We’re all supposed to be on the same schedule, but the Night Owl’s work from home habits seem positively nocturnal.  For many, family demands during the day are considerable and it’s not until the evening when the caretaking distractions let up. But consider how this impacts other employees, especially if you’re their supervisor or collaboratively working on projects.

Sending emails at 1 am may leave employees with the impression that they are expected to be working long hours, too. It can also cause worry in people’s minds that even though they responded to your email first thing in the morning, they left you waiting.

In other cases, you might be causing unnecessary stress or delays. If someone is asking for information early in the morning, and you don’t respond until late at night, your lack of a response might be keeping them from completing their task in a timely manner.

Being a Night Owl isn’t a bad thing, but it’s important to be aware of how this behavior affects others. Whether you are the Night Owl or you supervise one, be clear about your intentions and expectations, and maybe flex a little to ensure communication is quick and timely.

The Ninja

The Ninja moves in silence. Their status is always “Away,” they rarely (if ever) respond to your messages and emails, and yet, somehow, they’re completing their tasks and projects.

The work-from-home quirks of the Ninja are relatively easy to deal with. Their comings and goings hopefully don’t affect you much, as long as they continue to do their part in a timely manner.

In some cases, though, you need them to be responsive. Here are some tips to try:

Use a different mode of communication. Very often, people prefer one type of communication over others. When email fails, try picking up the phone. We often forget that just because we prefer one method of communication, not everyone else does. When in doubt, go ahead and ask what method they prefer.

Make it easy for them to give you an answer. Sometimes people don’t respond to messages and email because it may require a lot of time out of their busy schedule and they could potentially forget about it. Ask yes or no questions and break up your list of questions into shorter groups that are easier to respond to quickly.

You could also try adding a proposed decision if you don’t hear back in a reasonable amount of time (i.e. If I don’t hear back from you by Friday, I’ll assume it is okay.). Alternatively, ask to schedule time on their calendar. This will allow you to talk when the expectation and agenda is clear.

The Misinterpreter

You know the one: the person in the meeting who leaves with a totally different takeaway than everyone else. Maybe they were multi-tasking or rushing so fast they missed the details of the email.

One of the biggest obstacles for employees working from home is that it’s easier for us to misunderstand what people are saying. Most of us aren’t used to only communicating through a screen, meaning there is a higher chance that things will get misinterpreted.

For some, especially those who really rely on face-to-face communication, this means that communication is a minefield. There is a lot of nuance that is lost when the main mode of communication is email: tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

Much like for the Ninja, try changing up your communication style with Misinterpreters. Give phone calls or video conferencing a try. Add more detail to your written communication to make up for the lack of in-person context clues. Depending on the person, even emojis may help, if appropriate.

Infographic: 5 Types of Online Communicators

online communications styles infographic

About the Author

Kendall Kiyohara is a Learning Specialist with simplicityHR by ALTRES. He serves clients across Hawaii by providing customized training on a variety of employee development and engagement topics. To find out more about the training opportunities available through simplicityHR, download our HR and Safety Services Training Catalog or contact us at [email protected].

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.

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