“Kisses from Honey Bunny” The Complexities of Communicating in a Virtual World
Dana Mattioli’s article in the Wall Street Journal provides examples of digital communication faux pas (e.g., receiving a loving instant message while your screen is being shared, lettuce stuck in your teeth becoming part of the company video archives – possibly even in high-def), and suggestions for how to avoid them. I’ve certainly done embarrassing things in meetings – for example, delivering an amusing (if I say so myself) “one-liner” that would be fine face-to-face, and not recorded – but the stakes go up if recording is turned on, or if you’re not sure who is in your audience. While some of the comments to the WSJ article argue that too much weight is being put on delivery over content, the fact is that the perception of the content is what matters – and perception is a combination of the content and the medium. Technology (the medium) changes communication understanding – but not always in obvious ways:
- Perceptions of “bandwidth” or the perceived richness of the medium can vary by the communicators’ experience with the technology, the task, and with each other (Timmerman & Madhavapeddi, 2008; Carlson & Zmud, 1999).
- Some media have greater perceived seriousness – e.g., do you send a note of sympathy to a friend via email, regular mail, or face-to-face?
- Managers make media choices based on positive versus negative content, self-presentation, etc. (Sheer & Chen, 2004)
- the technology continues to evolve
- there are differences in audience expectations (based on experience, company culture, country culture, etc.)
- we may not know how recorded information will ultimately be used
- ... and feedback on the outcomes of our choices may be reduced given the media we are using, thus limiting our ability to learn and make adjustments based on that feedback