The way a person communicates depends on the situation. In an office environment people treat coworkers with a professional respect; in a social setting they treat their friends completely different. Electronic communication has affected the way people interact with each other. The level of personalization in the workplace depends on the context, emotional support, expressions, trust, and situation of the environment. With the increase in electronic communications, how can we ensure positive interactions with our coworkers? Electronic Communications
Electronic communications have become the new form of interacting with coworkers and friends. Business relationships have become based on the way people interact with each other via electronic communications. As society broadens the scope of communication, we must think about how we are interacting with our coworkers and if it is a positive interaction. Electronic communication began with the telephone, typewriter, fax machine, television, and computer. Each of these communications brought about a new form of communicating. With the coming of the telephone, the balance between public and private was redefined. Privacy increased in that much of the business that used to require face-to-face encounters (many of the house calls made by physicians, commercial transactions) could now be handled by telephone” (Baron 222). Each of these communications changes the way we interact with each other and how we conduct ourselves. As we grow accustomed to the new electronic communications, some people still use traditional forms of communication, such as paper documents. There is an inherent difference between paper and digital technologies as communicative substrates: where paper documents are fixed, digital materials are fluid” (Levy 36). We have an abundance of options when it comes to using electronic forms of communication. “New, comparatively fluid communications technologies make it easy to deprecate older, more fixed ones as if the latter were simply failed attempts to be fluid” (Brown and Duguid 199). Brown and Duguid, like Levy, feel that there are many options to forms of digital communication and how you can use them, whereas paper documents only have a few options available.
Personalization and Your Audience Christian Ricci, “Personalization is not Technology: Using Web Personalization to Promote your Business Goal,” defines personalization as something that “brings focus to your message and delivers an experience that is visitor-oriented, quick to inform, and relevant” (1). Although this definition may change from business to business, the main focus should always be on the context and purpose of the audience. Cliff Allen, “Personalization vs. Customization,” defines personalization as “interactive conversations with another person” (1).
A positive communication experience should evoke an “aha! experience that occurs when the content adapts itself based on the person’s profile, and provides something new, different, and possibly unexpected” (Allen 1). Technical communicators should portray the document, presentation, or verbal message to successfully reveal the message in a concise and logical manner. Writers need to express these messages clearly so the audience is as confident with the message as the author. As technical communicators, we need to always put our audience first when designing and writing documents.
Positive interactions with coworkers create relationships that enhance the effectiveness of the information needed for documents. Context Just like other documents, the author must analyze the audience as thoroughly as possible to prevent any possible misunderstandings. Cliff Allen, “Building Relationships with Personalization,” discusses the importance of scrutinizing the audience to its fullest degree. Allen states that “a person can be interpreted in several different ways if he or she uses words with multiple meanings, and this can slow down the relationship-building process” (1).
To prevent this from occurring, create documents that answer all of the questions the audience may have and also clarify any possible questions or misunderstandings. If it is not possible to clearly explain something, give the audience options and resources to those answers. Technical communicators must also make sure they are “creating an experience, specifically for one individual” (Allen 1). By creating a relationship based on trust and reliability, “the more likely we are to form good, solid relationships” (Allen 1). Solid relationships create a positive experience for the audience and a positive experience creates a working relationship.
Expressing Yourself Just as technical communicators should concentrate on their audience and the context, they should also think about how they act towards others. Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice portray underlying thoughts. Dale E. Jackson, Interpersonal Communication for Technically Trained Managers, explains how secretaries wanted engineers in their workplace to “say, Hello, look a secretary in the eye, smile, and say her name” (17). Regardless of stature, employees want to be treated with the same level of respect. They want to be treated in a civilized manner.
Technical communicators can accomplish this by personalizing documents, presentations, and verbal messages. Personalization comes from getting to know your audience and including their needs into the communication. The manner in which you express your thoughts is very important. Another important aspect is listening; don’t skip the small talk and friendly expressions. “Because of your technical background, you are probably about to make a serious error; you want to get to work” (Jackson 17). Set aside all your thoughts of jumping right into your work and keep your audience’s interests in focus.
If the audience isn’t happy with your approach or the communication itself, it has not served its purpose. You can create a positive interaction by including your audience in small talk before you begin creating documents for them. Jackson refers to this form of communicating with the audience as “chit-chat” or “pastime. ” He defines pastime as “taking time for what may appear to have no organizational payoff to inquire about such things as the other person’s family, automobile, thoughts on an impending sports event, or opinion of the latest income tax legislation” (17).
The information isn’t the only thing that is important, technical communicators should “pay more attention to their content, and you will learn more about the other person than you did in ritual” (Jackson 17). Not only will you show your audience that you care about them, but you will also learn more about them that you can use for creating the documents they will use. Just as what you say is vital, so is how you say it. Pay attention to kinesics or body movements, physical appearance and dress, eye contact, touching, proxemics or the space between people, and paralanguage or sounds and gestures used to communicate in place of words” (Goodman 357). Don’t just pay attention to what and how your audience is speaking to you, pay attention to how you are speaking back to them. “Part of the ability to communicate effectively is the ability to listen carefully and actively” (Goodman 14). You cannot provide the audience with important information without knowing what their needs are. “Active listening builds a relationship of trust” (Goodman 14).
Building Trust Trust is built by how you interact with people and should be built in order to work effectively with your coworkers. According to Christian Ricci, a relationship should not be something that people have to work hard to create. A relationship is an “engaging partnership” that should express your knowledge to “facilitate a more productive relationship” (3). Ricci also states that your audience should “trust you and you need to honor their wishes” (3). By trusting each other, the technical writer and his or her audience will build a relationship that is solid in any given situation.
A trusting relationship makes it easier to work with your coworkers. Interaction with your Audience When speaking to your audience, remember to include hand gestures that can reinforce what your words are saying. Use words that your audience can comprehend; you never want to make them feel stupid. Use technical jargon that they can understand. If you become interrupted by someone, let them express their feelings or concerns and answer their questions but tie it into what you were talking about before the interruption.
This will let your audience know you are willing to answer their questions and help them figure things out but you are also focused and professional. Always ask for feedback in the form of verbal or written questions. By doing this you will reiterate that you care about them and will also learn more about their background and knowledge. This increases the accuracy of information you can provide to them, instilling in them the idea that you take their needs into account when creating documents, presentations or verbal messages for them. By listening to your audience you can also “take advantage of it.
Use the extra time to analyze what he is saying and to project what he may say next” (Jackson 83). By listening to what your audience is saying you can decipher what unstated concerns s/he has by the way s/he presents the question or issue. As technical communicators and audience members learn to trust each other, via feedback, “you will spend less time verifying information that is important to your work” (Jackson 85). When creating documents for your audience you want to create a positive experience for them. Documents don’t just serve as a means of expressing your opinion; they also serve as a relationship builder.
John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid believe that documents do more than just carry information, “they help make it, structure it, and validate it. More intriguing, perhaps, documents also help structure society, enabling social groups to form, develop, and maintain a sense of shared identity” (189). It’s important to remember that our audience will walk away from our document with an understanding of what we think and believe. We must create our documents, presentations, and verbal messages to convey exactly what we are trying to communicate. These social interactions don’t just occur in the workplace, they also happen in the home.
As technical writers, we must think about how to treat our fellow coworkers that are outside of the office. We don’t build the same relationships with them as with the ones we see everyday. Because so many people work from home, the context of all communications will differ from situation to situation. All social factors must be considered when designing documents, presentations, and verbal messages. The way you treat a situation affects how well your audience will react to it and what kind of relationship you will have with them. Telecommuting When someone works from their home they telecommute.
This involves doing tasks and projects on their own time. Sometimes this means teleconferencing via video conferencing to update a supervisor on the progress of a project. A person must be highly motivated to work from home. This form of work has become very popular in the last few years. “It is common in some companies that develop technologies to have groups all over the world work on projects around the clock. These professionals and technicians are connected to one another by computer networks” (Goodman 361). These computer networks have their own form of communication.
Brown and Duguid believe that “in order for people to be able to work alone, technology may have to reinforce their access to social networks” (89). Coworkers have to be able to communicate with each other in order to actively discuss important aspects of the job or to update one another on personal projects. People have to be able to communicate with others to bounce ideas off of them or to update each other on progression. People need to be able to talk about projects and ideas with one another to create effective documents, presentations, and even verbal essages. Working from home makes it more of a task to discuss ideas and projects with others. People communicate electronically via email and video conferencing. Video conferencing brings a new way of communicating with coworkers. As companies start using video conferencing to communicate with each other, people have to get used to talking with people via computer screens and microphones. People may act and speak differently when looking at a computer screen at someone than they would if they were in a face-to-face interaction.
Face-to-face interactions involve more physical interaction and body language is more apparent. In video conferencing you may have to make up for facial expressions, body language, or even tone of voice through actual words. Depending on the quality of the video, some of the face-to-face qualities of a conversation may not be noticeable or even audible. This will not only affect the impression your audience gets, but also what they believe you are saying. They may not catch your underlying meanings. Email People not only communicate via video conference and telephone, but they also communicate through email.
For many companies, email has begun “to replace paper memos and physical distribution of those documents has substantially accelerated the communication of information within organization[s] which use them” (Goodman 305). This leads to a whole new workplace environment. The use of electronic communications changes the workplace atmosphere and how things work. It changes the social interaction between coworkers. Charles E. Grantham states that, “electronic communication always inhibits social interaction” (154). Increased social interaction is positive if workers are using their time to communicate about work related topics.
In most situations, “improvements in communication technology lead to increased information flow” (Grantham 148). Email is a very popular form of electronic communication today. “While email users clearly also know how to speak and write, we might argue that email is beginning to develop a group of “native users” who are learning email as a primary and distinct avenue for creating many types of messages, rather than transferring to email prior assumptions form face-to-face speech or traditional writing” (Baron 258). The way people communicate in email is very important.
Technical communicators must always treat their audience with the same professionalism as they do in face-to-face encounters. Many people find they are more informal in email messages; this can alter a relationship. When people become informal in any tense they create a different type of relationship. “It’s interesting to watch the degree to which today we allow email to affect our personal space” (Baron 222). People begin to treat each other as they would their own friends; they expect others to drop everything and attend to their issues.
When we cross this line in email, or other communications, we affect our relationships. Sometimes this can be a positive affect and other times a negative one, depending on the situation. Because email is such a popular means of communication, businesses everywhere are using it. They use it to relay short messages or even as a way to communicate larger issues. “Email disappears as a distinct language style, but influences development of spoken or written language styles (or both)” (Baron 259). It not only acts as a form of communication, but also as a way to reiterate a point.
Email can operate much like body language or facial expressions. As email seems to benefit spoken language, it is also a bonus when spoken communication is not possible (Baron 259). Sometimes they act as a complementary feature to the spoken and unspoken communication. Brown and Duguid express feel “they [email] are usually a complement to, not a replacement for, face-to-face meetings of such a community” (225). As email has become a part of everyday life, we must not use it as an evasion to communicating properly and clearly. So while people use e-mail and faxes in part to overcome the limited mobility of “snail mail,” they also use them to provide some capture in place of conversation’s escapism” (Brown and Duguid 200). Email has become a very informal means of communication and technical communicators must remember that these messages should be held with the same professionalism as any other document, presentation, or verbal message conveyed to the audience. Naomi S. Baron, Alphabet to Email, compares the differences between traditional writing (handwritten) and e-mail.
She talks about how “email is informal (compared with “traditional” writing), email helps develop a level of conversational playing field, email encourages personal disclosure, email can become emotional (“flaming”)” (Baron 249). As people send and receive e-mails they spend less time conversing over the phone or face-to-face. This not only affects the way people interact, it also affects communication and social skills. It changes the way people hold conversations. E-mail not only affects the manner in which a subject is approached but also how the subject is conveyed.
Conclusion With a clear image of the audience, technical communicators can create documents, presentations, and verbal messages that implement the audience, structure, and process of customization and personalization. Many factors affect how a relationship is built. The context, emotional support, expressions, trust, and situation of the environment affect the level of personalization in the workplace and the way coworkers interact with each other. Positive relationships are built when technical communicators listen to what their audience is telling them.
By paying attention to your audience, you guarantee that you will have their best interests in mind when creating a communication. Listening to your audience helps you target for the needs while also building trust. With so many ways to communicate, people need to focus on the purpose of their interaction. For a more informal communication, telephone and e-mail messages may be appropriate. When writing something formal and personal, traditional writing is more suitable. It shows the level of emotion that has been put into it through the content and the underlying theme.