How Our Words Are Perceived by Colleagues During WFH

I think my keyboard is a weapon.

I am typing “Hey, Any updates?” to my colleagues through the chatbox, and I hesitate— What if my colleagues read out that sentence wrong and feel hurt? Chat messages have no tone, and the meaning can be taken in another direction.

They could feel I’m shouting: “HEY!!! ANY UPDATES???”.

They could feel I’m ordering them about: “Tell me the updates, you minion.” 

It could sound like an irritating reminder: “Hello? Are there any updates yet?? Hello?? How about now? How about now?”

COVID has forced us to work remotely, and through the wireless tunnels of chat windows, we’re sending words that don’t convey the friendly tone it was written with. We are discovering new normals of communication— We are no longer our voice, tone, body language and dress. We are completely our words. Those words are representing us to the world, and we have to be careful about how others perceive them.

 “Any updates?”, is a shortcut I use often— it’s short, to-the-point and quick. It gets the work done. But does it? I hesitate. When I am in-person, “Any updates?” Is delivered with a wide smile and that effervescent happiness that usually accompanies me. Online, it will be delivered through the bright laptop screen, as a tone-less cold call. I can never know when the minefield of updates might blow up. 

I hurriedly stamp on the delete button with my index finger, as if leaving the words out there in the chat box, might etch it in the stone walls of the internet museum. Maybe I should add an exclamation mark, to make it sound friendly. I retype the sentence with the new decoration.

“Hey!! Any updates!”

I tap a finger on the desk, thinking. Nope. This sentence can’t go. It now sounds idiotically urgent, as if my chair is on fire and I can’t find where I last left my water bottle. My cursor is blinking, and I’m thinking. This has to be reworded. I try again. 

“Can you let me know if there are any updates please?”

I still don’t like it. It’s heavily padded with words. It’s still welcoming the readers’ mood to take over. It could sound stern. Dictatorial. Authoritative “Listen. Let me know the updates. Ok? OK?? Please”. The please isn’t helping here either. It sounds carefully placed— like a planted question in a press conference. No one’s falling for it. 

This is exhausting. I’ve already been through 3 variations of asking for an update. I like this other colleague's strategy-- he just hits that tiny phone icon on the screen and calls. To hell with typing it. The best part of calling is that there are no tone mistakes and no worries of “what will they think”. But calling is still not my style. Not sure how I can make that work for me. 

I change my sentence yet again. This time, stuffing a few words in between and adding a smiley.

“Can you kindly let me know if there is any update please? Thank you! :)”

Phew, much better. This sounds friendly. In fact, over-friendly. Like I’m trying really really hard for someone to like me. But you know what, maybe it’s ok— it’s worth being over-friendly, than being perceived by coworkers as a meanie.

The power of words! It takes some work to change this keyboard from a weapon to a useful asset during WFH times.

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