• It’s normal to want to be seen as confident and enthusiastic at work—but sometimes, we overthink the many aspects of workplace communication.
  • Digital spaces like our email, Slack channels, or Google Chat rooms can remove much of the nuance we’re used to encountering in face-to-face interactions, and this can create anxiety.
  • Communicating more effectively and alleviating work-related anxiety on digital platforms can include gauging the tone of the conversation, silencing notifications after work, and taking frequent breaks to decompress, Also remember—some conversations are best-conducted face-to-face.
  • The way we dress, in addition to our body language, can also affect our ability to communicate in professional settings. Choose clothing that feels comfortable and aligns with your employer’s dress code, but on days when it could benefit you to “dress up,” do so—you’ll be taken more seriously and feel more confident.
  • If you encounter an issue that’s troubling you at work, your body language may give it away, so it’s best to be open and have a conversation with coworkers. Finally, don’t let your posture indicate that you’re disinterested during virtual meetings; slouching or covering your face can make you appear bored.

It’s probably safe to assume that everyone would like to be viewed as competent, confident, and engaged at work. When we’re writing an important email, we might draft and re-read it several times before pressing “send.” It’s also not uncommon for us to add an emoji in a chat message in order to sound upbeat—we know there’s a chance of accidentally sounding angry or unenthused. We may carefully arrange our offices or workspaces to display parts of our personality that we want coworkers to notice.

Even our clothes, our speech, and how much we decide to share about our lives outside of work are all cultivated in an effort to create the image we want coworkers to see. So whether we’re expressing ourselves verbally or nonverbally, it’s still workplace communication, an essential professional skill. While there’s a fine line between crafting a professional image and creating undue stress and anxiety for ourselves, improving our workplace communication skills is beneficial, and it can be done without overthinking. 

Workplace Communication in Digital Spaces: Navigating Emails and Chat Messages

Chat platforms like Slack or Google Chat create the opportunity for quick and effective communication. But without face-to-face contact, it’s harder to pick up on the tone and nuance of a conversation. To compensate for this, we tend to use emojis and exclamation points to convey positivity, energy, and enthusiasm. But this can create the potential for overthinking, especially if we become fixated on how others may perceive us.

As Kate Hanselman, PMHNP, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Thriveworks in Stamford, Connecticut explains, digital spaces can make workplace communication more complicated and stressful. Apart from an increase in chat notifications or emails, “another significant challenge of digital communication at work is the lack of face-to-face and passive, nonverbal communication,” says Hanselman. 

Gender may even play a role in how we use punctuation at work, as it appears men and women don’t use exclamation points equally. A 2006 review of several studies concluded that on average, women tend to use exclamation points at work more than men do, due to an obligation to appear friendly and submissive instead of cold or unfriendly. It’s one of several ways that women may encounter obstacles in professional environments—and it makes developing workplace communication skills all the more important. 

Tips for Improving Your Verbal Communication Skills in the Digital Workplace

If you find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed by the flurries of emails and chat messages, honing your effective workplace communication skills and reducing your anxiety could start with: 

  • Gauging the tone of the email, chat, or other messages that you’re responding to: If you’re hoping to come across as straightforward or deliberate, an exclamation point might create the opposite effect and make you seem like you’re angry. But in casual, or continued conversations, exclamation points can be helpful in coming across as friendly or optimistic. Emails and messages that end abruptly in periods can come across as clipped, terse, or distant, even if that’s not the intention. It’s best to use the punctuation and tone that feels most natural in the given conversation. 
  • Silencing digital notifications when the work day is over: “Communicate this with your team if need be, and make sure your digital notifications are turned off during this time. Remind yourself that the work will never be done, so take the time for yourself while you can,” says Hanselman. 
  • Taking frequent breaks to keep your mind and body sharp: Hanselman also recommends that you “stand up, walk outside, get away from the notifications, drink water, do whatever it is that you need to self-soothe, and get your system back to baseline.” 
  • Using your best judgment to determine your communication method: Effective workplace communication, especially when talking to others digitally, starts with using the right platform for the right job. “Consider what can be an email, what needs a meeting, and what would benefit from face-to-face,” says Hanselman. When you choose a way to communicate with coworkers that feels most comfortable, you’ll have an easier time expressing your ideas and thoughts effectively. 

And lastly, if you find yourself stressing out over sending the perfect email or message, remember that technology is designed to make our jobs easier, not more complicated. If sending that email or typing that chat message is taking too long, it’s a sign that you’re likely overthinking it; just take a few minutes to walk away from your keyboard for some clarity. 

How Body Language and Clothing Can Affect Workplace Communication 

Working from home, combined with a near two-year quarantine period, helped steer many workplaces toward adopting more comfortable and casual dress codes. But for some professionals, this creates a bit of uncertainty; they may want to dress casually but be taken seriously. Knowing the line between business casual and too casual can stir up some anxiety. This is a tough balance: When we look more “traditionally” professional (suits, dresses, etc.) we’re more likely to be taken seriously—but if our clothing is making us uncomfortable, we’re apt to be anxious, stressed out, and irritable. 

On top of how we dress, our body language also affects our workplace communication skills. While clothing impacts our levels of comfort and confidence, our posture says a lot more about our emotions when we’re interacting with others. So when we’re frustrated or angry at work, and we feel the urge to hide it, our body language might give us away. That’s why if an issue can be resolved by talking more openly with our colleagues, effective workplace communication means expressing our emotions and accepting criticism constructively

Tips for Improving Your Nonverbal Workplace Communication Skills

Emily Simonian, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LFMT) at Thriveworks in Washington, DC, and Head of Learning, reemphasizes the importance of expressing our emotions at work. She points out that “showing normal human emotions like sadness or frustration can help your workplace become a psychologically safer space for employees to express normal emotional reactions.” In other words, it’s necessary (and expected) for you to show a range of emotions at work—it’s the delivery that matters most. If you’re looking to nail down your professional look and improve your body language skills, try to: 

  • Find comfortable professional wear that aligns with your workplace dress code: Breathable, form-fitting fabrics aren’t likely to feel uncomfortable, and as long as you feel confident, you’ll speak and work more effectively, too. Just keep in mind that some days, it might serve you better to “dress up”—a performance review or board meeting may not have the same level of formality as a daily standup, and dressing to the nines can give you a cognitive boost, too. 
  • Address the issues that are troubling you at work, instead of trying to mask them: There are workplace issues like harassment or age/race-based discrimination that should never be tolerated—but things such as project-related frustrations, confusion about job tasks, or health-related concerns are always going to require a conversation with your manager(s) and/or co-workers. Hone your workplace communication skills by addressing uncomfortable feelings at work—while keeping in mind that your coworkers are on the same team as you!
  • Avoid being a “slouch” during virtual meetings: Zoom fatigue can set in quickly, especially if you tend to have work weeks that are loaded with virtual meetings. You may start slouching, covering your face with your hand, or staring into the distance, especially during portions of a meeting that covers projects or assignments you have no role in. Even if you’re passionate about your job, your body language won’t convey that. It’s also been shown that sitting straighter, or using power postures can help improve your confidence, and it may make your coworkers more apt to listen when you speak.

Understanding how digital spaces and nonverbal cues can affect your workplace communication skills might help you learn how to express yourself more confidently. There’s always the potential for crossed wires in any professional setting, but by learning to intuitively use virtual platforms, and by gaining a better understanding of the effects of clothing and body language, we can improve workplace communication between ourselves and the coworkers we interact with.