(Photo by Armand Ramirez)

By coWORKer Nancy Sands Johnson

At WORK Petaluma’s recent Tuesday coffee social, we welcomed several guests, lent a collective “shoulder to cry on” to a frustrated entrepreneur, and discussed whether winking is now more acceptable online than it is in real life.

Think that last topic is trivial? Think again.

Most of us email, text, and Facebook all day long to keep our personal and professional lives in order.  We use these and other forms of electronic communication because they’re more convenient and less expensive than making a phone call or having a face to face interaction. But electronic communication has its drawbacks. For example, it lacks cues like body language and vocal inflection that help convey emotion in a particular message. And, it raises a host of legal and ethical questions. For instance, can you get fired for venting about your job on Facebook? Is artwork created online protected under copyright laws? What are the consequences of getting married—or divorced—in a virtual world?

Electronic communication continues to thrive because its users find ways to overcome its drawbacks. Emoticons like the smiley face and commonly used abbreviations like LOL [laugh out loud] developed out of the desire to “read” the emotions behind the words in an email or text message. Court decisions and new laws attempt to delineate the legal parameters around electronic communication, while academic studies work to define its linguistic protocols and moral ramifications. Mark your calendars for our next DRINKS+THINKS on May 17th when coWORKer Jeffrey Ventrella, author of Virtual Body Language, helps us dive into this fascinating topic.

Along the same lines, we discussed how people communicate with each other based on the roles each of us plays in society. For example, a patient who views her doctor as an omniscient authority figure might be primed to expect an authoritative diagnosis in the event of an illness. That patient’s communication style might pressure the doctor to make a diagnosis more quickly or, by the same token, might prevent the patient from taking responsibility for her own health. In the classroom, a similar kind of communication priming might occur when a student believes his teacher has all the answers, or when a teacher believes students are recipients of knowledge, rather than creators of knowledge.

One of our guests explained the importance of clear communication in his profession, residential architecture. He noted that when a project involves two or more individuals–a married couple, for example, or business partners—he insists on speaking with all parties at the same time as the plans are being approved or if there’s a change.

We then segued into a discussion about how realtors present themselves to the world and how they communicate with their clients. Buying a house is one of the biggest financial and life defining decisions a person will make. Petaluma realtor and coWORKer Armand Ramirez is interested in offering a deeper insight into the residential properties on the market, and the lifestyle opportunities they represent.

As we finished our coffee, we decided that winking at someone in real life feels creepy and inappropriate. Better to save your winks for the virtual world, where they’re appreciated. 😉

Nancy Sands Johnson is a coWORKer and freelance writer who specializes in feature articles and white papers. She received her M.A. in Applied Linguistics and wrote her master’s thesis on the issues and opportunities around using email in education. You can reach Nancy at nancysands13@gmail.com.