If you work online nowadays, you probably use an instant messaging service like Slack that allows you to grab the attention of your colleagues with a quick ping.
But while Slack is often meant for quick communications in the workplace, in hybrid and remote environments, it can also be the main way employees end up talking to each other. This can cause problems and misunderstandings.
“Slack is for small talk and is not a replacement for conversations that need to be conducted either in person or over the phone,” said Patty Ihsay, a workplace fitness and finance expert. “Communicating complex information through Slack is inefficient and can cause confusion.”
It’s not your fault if you’re confused about how to act on Slack. It can feel overwhelming by design, because while we have some sense of how emails, phone calls, and texts are supposed to go, Slack can exceed all of those expectations within one platform.
“It’s kind of a text and it’s kind of an email and it’s kind of across the levels,” said Bradley Brumell, an organizational psychologist at the University of Tulsa. “And then within the same platform, you go from one team, which is a group of people at a similar level who can make jokes in their work flow to a team that has all the hierarchies where your reputation really matters and is in play.”
That’s why it can be important to get it right, because being good at Slack is a job-related skill, he said. “Some people are like, oh, [Slack] It doesn’t matter. This was not a real job. But it certainly is if your message is distracting or causing chaos.
Here are some harmless and somewhat scary behaviors you might engage in on instant messengers like Slack, according to experts, and some tips on how to address those Slack concerns.
Do not give any reply or reaction to the message.
The complete silence after the message can be disturbing because the messenger lacks any feedback on how the message was received. “It’s like those quiet fears that a lot of people have,” Brumell said.
“It could be because you texted at 4 and everyone left that day, so it might mean nothing at all. Or it could mean that everyone is talking about you on another channel.”
Brummell said Slack’s concern about silence could speak to a larger misunderstanding people have about the tool: They assume that just because they said it on Slack, other people in the channel heard it.
“You thought you said something clearly,” he said, “and you thought people understood, but it just so, in the noise of it all, didn’t land.”
That’s why he recommends that organizations establish rules about how colleagues behave and respond to Slack to save employees, especially those who are new or lack strength, from this kind of anxiety.
Give salutations and one-word responses.
In online business communication, each word and punctuation gains additional meaning in the void of other information such as body language and tone of voice. What you might see as an occasional period, your colleague might consider an aggressive declaration of war, for example.
Intervals mean ‘end of conversation.’ This could be interpreted as the writer not wanting to hear anything from you.
It may seem like a small matter, but stuffing “okay” with an exclamation point or some other word like “okay, cool!” It can make a difference in how colleagues perceive you online. As internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch previously told HuffPost about adding extra words to a greeting like OK: “Having two things in there, it makes it sound like you put in a little extra effort, and it’s that extra effort that makes something more polite.”
To generally be an understanding beggar, you should try to give context to your Slack greetings with your colleagues.
“The most skilled people leave the hooks off. So they don’t tell you how to respond, but they give you a way to respond to that,” Brumell said. “Oh” like nothing. There’s no response to ‘Hi’, as if they’re making every effort on you to create the conversation, describe what’s important and know where it’s going.”
Typing on and off frequently without sending a message.
In Slack, you can be notified explicitly when someone writes a message to you. Seeing someone start typing, then stop, and then write again can panic the other person because it can make them anxious about why you took so long to formulate what you’re going to say.
“When they stop writing, you wonder, ‘What happened? Do they need to think about it? I need this information ASAP! “This is causing concern,” Ehsaei said.
“It focuses attention in terms of wondering what’s going on, because you’re so close to seeing something and then nothing happens. So there’s this anticipatory pressure or expectation that goes up,” Brumell said. He noted that similar to receipts on text messages, these write notifications on Slack can frustrate recipients because “you’ll constantly wonder why someone read something, and then don’t respond.”
“From a work-life balance perspective, if you don’t have clear rules, some people just can’t stop Slack.”
— Bradley Brumell, organizational psychologist at the University of Tulsa
The typing notification feature also confuses participants about whether the conversation is supposed to be a back-and-forth discussion or one where there is no pressure to respond immediately.
“If a discussion is supposed to be asynchronous, it is allowed to pause over a certain period of time. And when the conversations are synchronous, the rule is a kind of no interruptions or pauses.” “What you’re doing by writing bubbles that aren’t delivered is you’re violating every intuition about whether you’re having a synchronous conversation or like an asynchronous kind of exchange.”
If at all possible, Brummell said, people could try to turn off this kind of unhelpful typing feature. It takes a few extra steps but you can actually stop yourself from seeing someone text you. Follow these steps:
Go to your workspace and select Preferences.
- Go to the “Messages and Media” option, then scroll down to the “Additional options” section. There, you’ll uncheck the box that reads: “Display information about who is currently writing a message.”
To reduce anxiety on Slack, there should be set expectations, and employees should ask questions if they don’t know something.
To avoid misunderstandings, Brummell said, it’s best for workplaces to share expectations in writing about how they will act on the various Slack channels.
It’s also nice to say to the people involved that the person with the most power says, ‘Here’s how we respond.’ It’s also nice to say, ‘Hey, if something’s on Slack, you know, it’s email, you have 24 hours. [to respond]’” he said. “From a work-life balance perspective, if you don’t have clear rules, some people just can’t stop Slack.”
Brummell noted that it’s also nice for colleagues to give their new colleagues feedback about Slack’s behavior if it violates an unseen social norm in the workplace. Instead of just rolling your eyes and being like, “This guy isn’t good at his job or he’s too casual,” to actually say, “Hey, it might just be me, but in this Slack channel, we don’t X,” he says. suggest.
And his advice to those who are new or not in power at work and wondering how to get their act on Slack? ask questions. “You could go to your supervisor and say, ‘Hey, how quickly do you expect me to respond?'” He said, “Are we going to do something on Slack?” “Because they may or may not have rules, but they may have ideas in their heads about what to respond to.”
All employees should also keep in mind that Slack is a workplace monitoring tool that lets employers know when employees are active and what they’re typing. In this way, helping employees be better at Slack means giving them explicit permission to step away from it when possible, so they can eliminate the fears that come from feeling watched while at work.
In that vein, Ehsaei said it could help if managers were flexible in asking employees to account for their time online on Slack. “Nothing makes the staff more anxious than when Big Brother is watching,” she said. “Employees need to be empowered and confident to get their work done without being constantly monitored on Slack.”
In the end, it may take more time and effort to make the intent and influence behind Slacks clear in channels, but it can save you from alienating your colleagues in the long run.