7 Ways to Prevent Miscommunication in a Slack World

As we move increasingly toward digital and remote workspaces, apps like Slack keep us connected around the clock. At Union Square Media, Slack’s cloud-based collaboration tools have made interoffice teamwork and messaging easier than ever. However, it doesn’t come without caveats. Text-based communication can sometimes complicate communication more than it simplifies it.

If your team uses Slack, it’s important to set expectations about how it should be used. While it doesn’t prevent all misunderstandings, ground rules facilitate better communication and relieve office anxiety. Here are seven things our team does to avoid miscommunication.

It’s hard to beat face-to-face communication. First and foremost, it takes the guesswork out of trying to read someone’s mood over text. Unlike in-person conversation, it’s almost impossible to read verbal or emotional cues over text.

“For me personally, face-to-face meetings are the best way to avoid miscommunication,” said Joshua Keller, founder and CEO of Union Square Media. “Having the team in the same room means everyone knows what’s expected of them and really helps us battle communication issues.”

Slack makes it easy to reach coworkers in an instant, but it can still be difficult to read the intent or tone behind someone’s words. Try using Slack’s voice or video call function to set the day’s intentions and tone.

In-person meetings can be difficult if your team is spread out over multiple locations. One way to circumvent this issue is to take full advantage of available tools. Slack offers integration for a number of popular apps such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and Zendesk.

Getting your team together for a yearly retreat is another way to break down those communication barriers. Retreats connect remote employees and teams from different offices and provide ample opportunity for team building activities. It gives employees face-to-face time without the pressure of being in a work environment and allows them to build stronger communication skills.

The flow of messages on Slack is fast paced and can be difficult to keep up with. Two easy ways to prevent confusion are 1. be clear in delineating tasks and 2. make sure everyone in the conversation knows what is expected of them. If you’re designating tasks, it’s helpful to assign them to people with the “at” feature.

Being mindful of how your tone reads over text is another way to provide context in messages. How you speak often sounds different from how typed messages read. A “yes” or “okay” response might answer the question, but can sound short or angry.

One way to make context clearer is to type out your full message before sending it. This ensures people have all of the information before they respond and creates a clearer line of conversation. Another thing that can help is writing a few important bullet points or a short description when adding a file in Slack, since some people may not have time to read the whole thing.

No one likes leaving the office only to glance at their phone and see new requests in a Slack channel. Even worse is feeling unsure of how urgent the request is. Regardless of whether you have teams in different time zones, making message urgency clear is crucial to communicating well.

“Label priorities or ‘urgent’ or ‘non-urgent.’ That way, if you’re working with a team in another timezone or are working on multiple projects, there isn’t any confusion or rush to answer. This is especially true if you’re sending messages after hours. People might assume your message is urgent, when really you just didn’t want to lose your train of thought,” said Cynthia Gentry, Director of Culture at Global Agora.

Taking a moment to preface a message or request with something like, “Hey, this can wait until tomorrow, but…” can save both you and your colleague some communication headaches.

Creating Slack channels is a great way to keep teams and projects organized, but only if they’re used for the intended purpose. It’s easy to get sidetracked in a channel, but this also makes it more difficult to know what information is recent and relevant. It’s important to know when to move a conversation into a different channel or to a direct message. Setting a channel topic or purpose can help combat misuse and miscommunication. Plus, sending work-related messages in a casual chat could cut people who aren’t in the channel or who don’t receive those messages out of important information.

Aside from general, company-wide chats, every person in every channel should have a clear idea of why they’re there, whether it’s because the channel is for a specific team, project, or something else.

When you have team-specific channels, it can also be helpful to use statuses for things like sick days, vacation times, or breaks. That way, teams know when other members are away and can step in should an emergency occur. Using @here (notifies people who are online) and @channel (notifies everyone in a channel, regardless of whether they’re online) is helpful in communicating whether information is urgent.

Our final tip for communicating in Slack helps in other areas of life: Be polite.

“I try and always say thank you after asking something, and avoid using proper grammar in certain instances. The biggest and toughest thing to control in IM perception is intonation, which if not minded properly things can come off as ‘mean.’ If someone asks me a question and the answer is no, I don’t say ‘no,’ I say ‘nope,’” said Alex Feldman, VP of Business Development at Union Square Media.

When team members post in a channel asking for advice or critique, think through your criticisms and consider their point of view. Prefacing criticism with a sentence that highlights the strength of the idea can make critique sound less harsh — because again, intonation is nearly impossible to read over text.

More often than not, Slack is used for quick messages. Taking the time to add context and consider how your tone can be interpreted may seem excessive, but they overall lead to a happier, healthier workplace and better communication among teams.

Founded in 2009, Union Square Media Group is an advertising technology company. We develop technology platforms to market owned & operated sites. The company provides its clients with quality customer acquisition, lead generation, and user engagement. USMG’s clients include Fortune 500 companies and top brands such as AIG, Fidelity Life, Nestlé, and Match.com.

Union Square Media is a digital advertising agency.