Making eye contact with the person you’re talking to is a key component of effective in-person communication. But what can you do to make a similar connection when you’re communicating via text and in other digital formats?
Learning the art of communicating respectfully in the written word can be an important part of interacting with your team through a feedback program. Since the person on the other end of a text or broadcast can’t see you, though, it’ll take a different approach to get it done.
Why Eye Contact Matters
Have you ever stopped to consider what makes eye contact so important? It’s practically an instinctual behavior, so it may never have even occurred to you to think about it! From the moment we learn to engage with others around us, we’re in tune with their eyes.
In fact, it’s sometimes said that the eyes can have a conversation all their own. Ever been stuck in an interaction you’d like to get out of and made eye contact with a friend across the room? Your silent plea for help likely came with wide eyes and raised brows that communicated exactly what you needed in that moment.
Eye contact plays a vital part in in-person communication, along with communication on video chat or conferencing platforms. Maintaining your focus by keeping your eyes on the person you’re speaking with builds the foundation for effective communication: respect, attentiveness, and interest in the conversation.
Because there are many interruptions and distractions in daily life — often the result of modern technology — it can be difficult to keep your focus on the conversation in front of you. But demonstrating attentiveness and showing that you’re listening are essential for effective interaction.
A Different Kind of Eye Contact
When an interaction between two people is conducted through written word, eye contact in the traditional sense is not a factor. To communicate effectively when you’re typing out a response rather than speaking it, put a different type of attentiveness into play. Because your eyes provide a way of demonstrating your focus in person, you’ll need to provide written cues that you’re paying attention instead.
The first is something the person you’re interacting with can’t see: You need to engage with your eyes and thoughtfully read through the feedback or other type of message you’ve received. It can be too easy to quickly speed-read through a piece of feedback, already formulating your answer or action in your head before you’ve really processed the entire message.
But that’s the digital equivalent of averting your eyes and looking around the room. Carefully read through the feedback, “listening” to what it says for the sake of listening. Then stop and consider your next move.
Once you’ve taken that step, it becomes easier to maintain “digital eye contact” in your reply. If you’re answering an email, start off by acknowledging what the person wrote to you. You don’t have to repeat it word for word, but ensure your reply indicates you heard what they said.
If you’re handling a piece of feedback through WorkHound or a similar platform, you can accomplish this goal through either a one-time message to the employee or a broadcast to your entire team. Reiterate the information that you received, demonstrating that the employee’s voice was heard. Doing so is a key component of building trust, which in turn yields relationships and future feedback.
Even when you’re communicating something strategic, like a process change, it’s important to emphasize the human aspect of that change. Demonstrate that you’re listening to the other person in the conversation by showing the “why” of the change and linking it back to employee feedback when applicable.
The key to effective digital eye contact is to keep the person or people you’re speaking with front and center. While it’s more challenging when your literal eyes can’t be seen, you can still maintain that level of respect and attentiveness in any interaction.
Knowing what your employees actually need and want is the first step toward employee satisfaction and improved retention. Sign up for a free demo to learn how WorkHound can help!