How to Have Meaningful Online Conversations - 2 Simple Ideas
The coronavirus came along, and, just like that, we moved online.
True, we were online before. We messaged each other and followed each other's lives on social media.
But now online communication is the primary form of communication.
And yes, dealing with a crisis during the age of the Internet has its benefits.
We can communicate in a variety of ways at a moment's notice.
But it's also sort of a drag.
It limits our communication in a big way.
To maintain our mental health, we need to adapt.
What's Different About Online Communication
Other forms of communication have something that Internet communication does not.
They are alive and in the moment. The ideal form is in-person communication. With in-person communication, you are totally present and engaged in the conversation.
But even phone conversation has its benefits. The focus is completely on the voice. All attention goes there. Phone communication was designed with one thing in mind.
Internet communication is different. You have social media messages. You have text messages. You have video calls. Each of these have their strengths, but distraction is possible. Attention--your own and the person you're talking to--inevitably gets split in multiple directions. There is too much to focus on when it comes to Internet communication.
And the context, oh, is the context lost. And it's not just because there's not enough of it, which is so often the case with text messages and social media communication. No, there's also so much more context.
There are personal profiles. There's a history of Internet baggage to be found about the person with whom you're communicating. You can get lost in rabbit holes at the same time that you're sending messages. All of this can sway how you interpret what the person is saying. It's a dearth of context and it's context overload all at once.
So what are you supposed to do about this?
How do you master online communication to protect your relationships and maintain your mental health?
Here are two online communication ideas:
Focus your attention on one aspect of the communication
Treat your online communication like it's a phone conversation or in-person conversation. Instead of scanning around the room and trying to do five things at once, focus your complete attention on one aspect of the conversation. Maybe it's the person's voice during a video call. Maybe you block out other messages while you're on social media and only look at one conversation thread for five minutes. Take one aspect and hone in on it.
Your increased focus will increase the quality of your conversation.
Ask more questions
With "normal" forms of communication, it's easy to get the whole picture. With online communication, you're probably going to need to get more feedback, more context. Don't be shy about asking for it. You'll come across as someone who cares about getting the details right.
Of course, how you ask is just as important as what you ask. As long as your tone is not judgmental and your heart is in the right place, your question is not likely to be misinterpreted. Even if it is, just the mere fact that you went first, that you took the initiative to ask a question, will encourage similar behavior. Give it a try.
In Conclusion - 21st Century Communication
Focus on one aspect of the communication. Ask more questions.
These are two simple ideas that have an outsized impact when implemented well. With practice, you'll become a master of Internet-age communication.
The key difference is always going to be how you implement simple advice. Tailor it to fit your life and your most common communication scenarios.
You know your life best, and you know what it will take to become a communication master in this new, online-focused world.