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Collaborative problem solving for community safety
Collaborative problem solving for community safety

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1.3 Online communication skills

The internet, and the recent expansion of online social media platforms, offers a wealth of opportunities for communication that most of us use regularly these days. Much of what we have learned about online communication through the development of email, web chat rooms and learning forums applies also to social media exchanges via Facebook, Twitter and other channels which support online interaction between members of organisations and communities.

There are two main ways of communicating online, and these are called synchronous and asynchronous, which can be defined as follows:

  • Synchronous communication means taking place in ‘real time’; for example, via instant messaging or a ‘chat’ facility.
  • Asynchronous communication takes place when participants communicate in their own time; for example, by responding to messages that have been posted in an online forum.

If you take part in social networks, you will recognise that these terms could be applied to those too.

Whether you are using the internet for study or personally, it is important to remember you are communicating with real people. Special care must therefore be taken to avoid misunderstandings.

Good online communications often involve:

  • Thanking, acknowledging and supporting people

    People cannot see you nod, smile or frown as you read their messages. So, if they get no acknowledgement they may feel ignored and be discouraged from contributing further.

  • Acknowledging before differing

    Before you disagree with someone, try to summarise the other person’s point in your own words. Then they know you are trying to understand them and will be more likely to take your view seriously.

  • Making your perspective clear

    Try to avoid speaking or writing in a dogmatic and an impersonal way, so avoid phrases like ‘It is a fact that …’ as they leave no room for anyone else’s perspective. So, why not start with ‘I think …’? When you are studying a course, you may want to present someone else’s views; if so, say whose they are, perhaps by a quote and acknowledgement.

  • Clearly showing your emotions

    Smileys or emoji’s can be used to express your feelings. Other possibilities are punctuation (?! #@*!), or .

    Emotions can be easily misunderstood when you cannot see faces or body language. People may not realise when you are joking, and one person’s joke may not seem amusing to someone else. You should always be aware of the receiver(s) of your message, particularly as people from widely differing cultures and backgrounds may read what you write online. What you find funny may be offensive to them.

  • Avoiding ‘flaming’

    If you read something that offends or upsets you, it is very tempting to dash off a reply and hit ‘Send’ – but don’t! Online discussions and Twitter exchanges seem to be particularly prone to such ‘flames’, and can escalate into a flaming spiral of angry messages. So if you feel your temperature rising as you write, save your message, take a break or sleep on it – don’t hit ‘Send’.

Described image
Figure 1 Online communication can be misunderstood