Beyond the Screen

Digital communication is complex, ambiguous, and sometimes stressful. From text messaging to email and social media, the ability to communicate across multiple channels and platforms has revolutionized the way we interact with each other.

There are a variety of factors that shape these online interactions–both at work and in our personal lives. Knowing what these factors are can help us become more effective and mindful communicators. More importantly, it’s a good communication improves relationships at work and stregthens emotional intelligence. In this blog, we’ll dive into the many factors that shape our everyday online interactions.

Personal Well-being

As O’Brien (2021) notes in her book, “The Elevated Communicator”, our well-being affects our level of communication. For instance, when we are stressed, our ability to communicate becomes impaired. Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated and we experience an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. These physical changes make it difficult to focus and problem-solve, impairing our ability to communicate effectively. Conversely, when we are calm, we can tune in and empathize with others. We are more aware of how we are presenting to others and can articulate our thoughts more clearly.

Digital Adapters vs. Natives

Age affects a person’s level of competence, communication style, as well as response time expectations. Digital adapters are individuals who have adapted to technology and digital tools later in life. They are people who have become familiar with the digital world as an adult and may still need to work hard to keep up with new technologies. As a generalized group, they take more time to respond to a message or email, and prefer synchronous communication.

Digital natives, on the other hand, have grown up with the ubiquitous presence of technology in their lives. They have been exposed to digital media since birth and typically feel at ease with tools and devices. Digital natives are often seen as “tech savvy” and therefore more comfortable operating and adapting to new technology then adapters, however, this group may be seen by others as being over reliant on technology and/or lacking critical thinking skills that are often learned in traditional interpersonal and face-to-face communication. As a generalized group, they reply quickly to messages and can often feel a sense of frustration if others don’t do the same.

Please note these are generalized groups and there is considerable variation between individuals. While digital natives and adapters may exhibit different levels of comfort with technology, a wide range of factors, including education and experience, will also influence how people communicate.

Workplace Culture and Norms

The norms and values of a workplace can influence how people communicate online. This includes expectations around response time, tone, and the appropriateness of certain types of communication. For example, work cultures that value direct communication and assertiveness may be more likely to use a more blunt or direct tone in online communication. This may be perceived as being abrupt or abrasive. In cultures where a delayed response is seen as a sign of reflection and thoughtfulness, it may be unintentionally viewed as a sign of disinterest and could cause frustration if a team member does not respond immediately.

Social and Occupational Status

Employees who occupy higher social and occupational status may be more confident and assertive in their communication, whereas those who hold lower status may be less likely to speak up or assert an opinion in an online meeting or group chat. Using platforms that allow for anonymous participation can help to mitigate against power imbalances.

As in face-to-face interactions, power dynamics can impact online conversations. Those with higher positions of authority may tend to dominate communication or may be more likely to receive prompt responses compared to others. Being mindful of this can help to balance out the conversation and allow everyone to participate equally.

Virtual Emotional intelligence™

Online interactions require a high degree of Virtual emotional intelligence™ to navigate. And people with strong virtual EI skills can foster more productive and positive exchanges. For instance, tone, humour, and sarcasm are difficult to discern online. However, people with strong virtual EI are better prepared to pick up on digital cues and can use that information to mitigate and diffuse situations, resulting in less conflict and misunderstandings.

Visible Minority Status

Understanding how race and ethnic relations play out in digital communication is essential for supporting equity and diversity. Research shows that members of the BIPOC community (Black, Indigenous, and people of Colour) are less likely to communicate their thoughts in a videoconference meeting, and when they do, they are less likely to be remembered for what they said. This is exacerbated for women of colour. Furthermore, for those whose English is a second language, videoconferencing can be intimidating. As a result, asynchronous communication (chat rooms, online forums) may be preferred and can help to level the playing field and ensure everyone’s ‘voice’ is hear. To learn more about how to create a culture of belonging online here.


Stereotypes about gender roles impact how messages are received and interpreted, making it necessary to be mindful of this in online communication. Research shows a number of differences in the ways men and women communicate. For instance, men are more likely to engage in assertive or dominant communication styles, while women tend to use more accommodating and collaborative tones. Females are more likely than males to use emojis to express emotions in digital communication, while men are less likely than women to review and edit a message before sending.


Choosing the right medium is an important factor in digital communication. That is because the platform that one uses (email, text message, chat) influences the level of formality, frequency, and effectiveness of interactions. For example, emails are considered more formal than instant messages or social media. As a result, the tone and structure of the communication will change.

Being able to communicate effectively and in an emotionally intelligent way is a key pillar of digital wellness. Understanding the many different factors that shape our online communications helps us to become better virtual communicators and collaborators, and it’s critical to building and navigating online relationships.

To learn more about digital wellness and virtual emotional intelligence™ and how to bring it to your workplace, reach out here!