Publish at May 17 2022 Updated May 23 2022

The art of digital conversation

Even in writing, certain practices should be avoided

Humans are a gregarious species. However, unlike other species that quickly understand social signs, we have a lot to learn. Especially since we possess complex emotions, unspoken words transposed into gestures, etc. In short, there is nothing simple about the art of human conversation. No wonder there are specialists offering advice on developing proper communication reflexes. They remind us of the methods of active listening, the right gestures and attitudes to make the interview go smoothly.

In a digitizing environment, many organizations recognize the importance of imparting these verbal skills to children. A good idea that must also be accompanied by teaching the art of online conversation, because in the Internet, many do not master the codes. This could be seen especially during the pandemic and multiple lockdowns; companies had no choice but to prioritize digital conversations, which led to advantages and disadvantages.

Nonverbal, even at a distance

For companies, this ability to communicate at any time allowed both telecommuting and onsite teams to easily and quickly discuss difficulties, questions, etc. Easier to set up meetings each from home or from their workstations and, with a few digital tools, it can be easy to organize an agenda, distribute documents, etc.

On the other hand, this digital approach tends to dehumanize communications. Hence the importance of encouraging more informal exchanges, meetings in smaller groups, etc. The whole issue of relations with human resources representatives (unions, among others) is undergoing a metamorphosis with digitization. For example, negotiations between bosses and employees will increasingly take place digitally, which changes a lot of approaches.

Beyond these structural changes, there are also difficulties related to the conversations themselves. Because in the exchanges made on the Internet, it seems that some people omit rules more adopted in person. Let's think about cameras that ask you to look at the lens to give the impression that you are looking at your interlocutors. This may seem anecdotal but it shows a real interest to others who will then feel more comfortable talking. Easy too to let individuals dominate the conversation. Hence the importance of including everyone in the discussion, using hand tools or doing it visually.

Body language can be found in asynchronous methods such as email. Indeed, a person who wants to communicate well with another will avoid obsequious expressions, trying to guess what the other is thinking. The use of emojis or ellipsis should be done with discretion. In a formal communication, a smile emoticon will take away credibility while it can be friendly in an informal setting.

This makes it all the more important to be clear in messaging since there is no voice and physical attitudes that add detail. Ideally, a company will have developed a policy for digital communications, including the right to disconnect. It will be able to draw inspiration from best practices as shown in this guide from ORSE (Observatory of Corporate Social Responsibility).

AIs against the cruelty of online exchanges?

In addition to all these elements, teaching the art of online conversation must take into account the bruteousness issue. Indeed, anyone who has been on a social network in the last few years has realized the harshness of the exchanges. Twitter is in a perfect example where political and social camps are unleashed as never before, hateful comments are regularly made there without real moderation except for the most serious cases.

The situation is such that a researcher from Laval University, Richard Khoury, is developing with the help of a moderation company an artificial intelligence that could calm down the game. For now, keyword control is not very effective, easily circumvented and not taking into account the meaning of the message. Of course, human teams could then help, but that would require a considerable amount of time given the staggering amount of text per second that is shared. Thus, the job would be to make an algorithm learn the signals announcing an escalation in the aggressiveness of a conversation. A task all the more important as the researcher realized that a few negative words per message were enough to change an online conversation completely. In short, the AI would only have a window of action of a few seconds.

In the meantime, however, it might be wiser to teach young and old alike the art of a healthy discussion. For example, according to the research, it would be best to avoid "you" messages and use "I." Using more positive words would also prevent slippage. These are things that everyone should master in order to make the digital discussion as good as the in-person one.

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"Social Skills And Interaction Of Children In The Digital Age." Marie Claire Academy. Last updated September 25, 2021.

"Guide: On the Best Use of Digital Communication Tools in Business." ORSE. Last updated January 2015.

Khoury, Richard. "AI Tool Could Prevent Toxic Conversations On The Internet." The Conversation. Last updated June 10, 2021.

"The Brutalization Of Digital Conversations." Good In Tech: Responsible Digital Innovation. Last updated December 9, 2021.

Ong, Mindy. "The Art of Online Conversation." The Greater Sum. Last updated September 20, 2021.

Robson, David. "The Conversational Habits That Build Better Connections." BBCpage. Last updated November 11, 2021.

Terrier, Jessika. "Advantages And Barriers To The Digitization Of Labor Relations." Sigma HR. Accessed May 13, 2022.

Waters, Shonna. "How to Carry a Conversation - the Art of Making Connections." BetterUp: The People Experience Platform. Last updated November 15, 2021.

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