Using Digital Empathy When Dropping Slacks - A Guide to Being a Good Colleague

Research on how emotions affect negotiation shows that people are less adept at conveying their emotions via email than they think they are. In a study published in the journal Group Decision and Negotiation, researchers Christoph Laubert (Freie Universität Berlin) and Jennifer Parlamis (University of San Francisco) studied how effective negotiators are at detecting specific emotions conveyed via email, such as empathy, embarrassment, anger, interest, and contempt. In one experiment, two trained data coders who independently studied the same transcripts of email negotiations agreed on which emotions study participants expressed only about 22% of the time.

And how do we communicate written words digitally with our colleagues now? Slack, of course. Slack was invented to replace email. I’ve not personally experienced that benefit, but maybe you have. The two platforms have a lot in common; slack and emails are both searchable, persistent, and you decide who receives your message. I think we can therefore extrapolate the academic studies and assume people aren’t always using Digital Empathy effectively when using Slack, both for conveying their own emotions or understanding others’.

To help you navigate this, here are a couple of guidelines, the classic Who What Where When Why and How of journalism, for making sure your Slacks reach your colleagues’ “ears” effectively.

Who - Be mindful of who is intended to see the message and who COULD see the message

Messages get forwarded; we all know this. And conversely, are the people you include necessary? No one likes CC spam. If an email has confidential information in it, put that in the subject line in case it later needs to be forwarded, as a reminder that there was, at some point in the thread, confidential information.

What- Always make sure you have a point and that the point is clear. If there’s a summary, lead with it. Make it easy on your reader.

Where - Is this venue, e.g., a team-wide email, a 1:1 slack, a message to most of the team, etc. the most appropriate for this message, given when people will receive it, the necessary formality or informality, etc. A particularly excellent question to ask when considering slack channels that may have a multitude of members - is this the right place to post this message?

When - Consider the asynchronous. When will colleagues read these messages?

Why - Before any email, it’s worth asking, “why am I sending this” and then let your recipients know that reason. If there’s an action needed, spell it out.

How - How well did you craft your message. At the heart of it, What’s the nicest and most straightforward way to get your point across? As discussed previously, negative emotions are contagious in written work. A good life rule; Don't Be a dick over email.

And proofreading says a lot about how seriously you take what you’re writing.

What are your Slack best practices?

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