Bruno is a great speaker and got the whole audience engaged rapidly. His 12 tips concern face-to-face communication as this is the context he did extensive research comparing teams of deaf people and teams of hearing people. The deaf teams always beating the hearing ones at the same tasks requiring good collaboration.
While I was listening to Bruno, I started thinking if his 12 tips would apply to online communication as well. I decided to buy his book and challenge myself at adapting his tips to the online context. You will find below how I succeeded in this challenge. I should point out that I have contacted Bruno to ask for his feedback before publishing this post. He sent it to some of his deaf collaborators and they confirmed that these adaptations do relate to the way they communicate online.
Deaf Tip No 05: Be
simple and precise.
<<When Deaf people
communicate, they are both simple and precise at the same time. [..] When Hearing people try to be simple,
they are automatically vague. And when
they try to be precise, they suddenly become complex.>>
In today’s increasingly connected world, it is essential to remain simple while
not losing valuable information. We can
do this by keeping our online messages (sms, emails, social media posts) simple,
to the point, avoiding unnecessary words.
Being precise in your descriptions or explanations is nearly as important to
avoid unnecessary lengthy exchanges for you to give successively more information. Worse still if by not being precise, you lead
the readers on the “wrong path” without being asked to clarify. This will affect your online reputation and
make others being more wary of your contributions.
Deaf Tip No 03: Put
yourself in the other’s shoes.
This tip applies fully in an online context. In fact, with regards to the choice of words
it applies even more as you don’t have the luxury of the others’ body language
to warn you that they do not understand your point. Furthermore, online social communication is
typically to be read by numerous people, many of whom you don’t know
personally, so you cannot adapt your language to all of them. Therefore, it is useful to think about how
others will read and understand what you write online, before you press
Avoiding technical language and acronyms, placing words in
the right order, and avoiding unnecessary lengthy posts are all very good
advice for online communication.
Finally, Postponing judgment of course fully applies when
reading other’s initial comments/replies.
Deaf Tip No 07: Dare
to ask questions.
Many will argue (including myself) that asking questions is
one of the raison d’être of any online collaboration tool. Most online
discussions either start with a question or start with an assertion which calls
for others to ask questions.
About the three conditions – Precision, Honesty and Space -
for asking the right question, this is how they more specifically apply to
It is even more important in an asynchronous
communication where hours or even days can laps between a question and its
Again, posting questions and responses on a medium
that will retain them for a very long time after you wrote them (probably
longer than the time it will take you to forget writing them) it is a very good
advice to be honest with yourself and with the others you are collaborating
with. Don’t take the risk of an old lie
to come back and bite you!
Online this means to not systematically provide an
answer to your own question. Don’t show
off. Instead give others a chance to
respond first and build on their answers.
Deaf Tip No 09: Do
you see what I say?
The use of visual supports such as infographics and “visual
words” fully applies online. An online
collaboration environment is also very well suited for using the story telling
Deaf Tip No 06: Don’t
Our brain is wired to remembering positive images/messages. Using negative
phrases will tend to let others remember the opposite to the point we are trying
to make. So in any discussions,
including online ones, we should use positive sentences. For instance, in online discussions, avoid the use of the negative word ‘but’
and use ‘and’ instead which will encourage more responses from the other
Deaf Tip No 01:
Prepare to be prepared
Preparing to be prepared for online communication consist of
doing the following before engaging:
- “Looking around”/assessing everything you
can gather from the context of the discussion you are about to engage
- Reading what others have written, assess who the participants are (or tend to be if there are many of them).
- Being clear on the purpose of the
group/Community of Practice/Space in which you are intending to engage with
(you could read some of the previous discussions involving the same people to
get a better feel for the topics that are expected here, how people are
“behaving” and the dominant style of writing).
We must keep an open mind and not being too quick at
judging/interpreting others’ point of views.
We need to read on a regular basis what others are writing
online which will give us the ability to anticipate what others would respond
to our own contributions
Deaf Tip No 04: Be
In the asynchronous
context of an online social media discussion, you do not run the risk of
participants talking at the same time or someone starting to respond while
someone is still talking. However, it
is frequent for multiple threads – sub-threads - to occur within one
discussion. This often causes confusion
among participants, especially with the new entrants who have not taken part
from the start:
- It gets increasingly difficult to follow the
various threads simultaneously and always understand who responds to whom
- When you reply to a “sub-thread”, you have this
annoying feeling that you are no longer addressing all the participants but
only the ones who will care to follow this thread
- Sub-threads often diverge so much from the
discussion’s original topic that you end up with very different topics being
addressed within the same discussion.
Some tools do allow to
visually differentiate the “sub-threads” (such as indentations) in order to see
who is responding to whom. But this
workaround only partially address the first issue above and potentially
exacerbates the other two.
Being sequential online
means avoiding sub-threads. You can do
this by adopting these two simple behaviours:
- If a discussion inspires you to ask a related
but clearly different question than the one that started this discussion, start
a new discussion with your question. If
you want to relate to the first discussion, you can explicitly refer to it by
using a hotlink. You can also tag the
specific participants whom you would like to see contributing to your new
- If you notice a sub-thread within a discussion,
you should post a reply suggesting to the contributors that this topic would
seem to warrant a new dedicated discussion.
You might be surprise to see how often this triggers the right behaviour
from the person who really want to put across his/her point of view on this
Being sequential online also means making sure to fully understand others point
of views before contributing ourselves.
We can do this by asking “clarifying/confirming” questions. Each question should be preceded by a
relevant quote from the other person you are questioning – so literally
copy/pasting the sentence(s) that you are asking to clarify/confirm.
Deaf Tip No 08: Focus
on the right thing.
In an online context, focusing on the meaning fully
Focusing on the others means being conscious of our filters
and put them aside while trying to understand other’s contributions.
Focusing on here and now applies also: it means avoiding
other distractions when writing a question or a response, and rereading what we
wrote before sending.
Deaf Tip No 12: Say
what you think.
Saying what you think online in a shared “public”
environment is fine when it is not about someone in particular. When you are not face-to-face with the person
and in addition communicating asynchronously, the risk of being misunderstood
is greater. Furthermore, the arguments
given for being honest in Tip No 7 are relevant here too.
However, how saying what you think applies online is by
being as factual as possible, as descriptive as possible (but again not personal). If you express an opinion, belief, then make
that clear, and then make your point completely, don’t stop half-way as it will
likely backfire: It would confuse/mislead others, leading the discussion on a
wrong path, requiring from you a lot of effort to recover and clarify.
An important relevant point about online
communication: Some readers and contributors of an online discussion might not
come back to read your late clarification, and will keep this wrong interpretation
of your points.
Deaf Tip No 11: Get
This was at first the hardest tip to translate to an online
“Being touched” by someone has two meanings: The physical
one and the social one when someone does/says something really nice about you.
So “touching” online can be about not missing an occasion to
please someone, to help out and ask nothing in return, to congratulate, to
praise, recognizing someone’s efforts/successes/performance.
Deaf Tip No 02: Read
“Body language” reading has literal relevance in a video
In the context of mostly text-based online asynchronous
communication, body language translates as being always conscious that what people write
is not necessarily what they truly mean or even believe.
In doubt, reach out to the other person
directly (via email, or better Instant Messaging, or even better via telephone
or better still face-to-face) to get clarification.
Reading words like we can read muscle contractions: color,
high capitals, fonts, short/long sentences, quickly or carefully written
sentences, order of words, repeated words etc…
Deaf Tip No 10:
Listen in Technicolor.
Active listening translates online into active
Active reading in a social media context is about not limiting yourself in
reading a given discussion thread (especially if you intend to contribute) but
to refer to other relevant “parallel” discussions, on the same forum or
others. Relevant means “on the same topic” and/or “similar topic” and/or
“involving most or all of the same participants.
I addition, active reading requires the following behaviours:
- Focus on the others’ posts by avoiding
distracting “noise” around you and on your device’s screen, and by focusing on
getting the true meaning
- Postponing judgment (ask questions first)
- Avoiding parallel mental activities
- Truly connect with others (use humour, praises,
references to previous relevant discussions) and collaborate (it is not about
scoring points but about “adding a piece to a puzzle”).