Building Rapport – Use More Words

This one is more of a hack than a legitimate strategy, but it’s a ridiculously simple tip, so I think it’s worth mentioning here:

As most people agree on nowadays, a significant amount of human communication is non-verbal (though there has been a bit of controversy recently regarding the exact numbers). When we’re confined to text-based communication, we’re not able to use our voice or body to convey the exact meaning of our words. As such, it’s easy for our attitude or demeanor to be misinterpreted, especially if we’re involved in a tense chat with a frustrated user.

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect way to convey tone via text chat (even the most emphatic emoji have their limits), but when it comes to expressing warmth and friendliness, it generally helps to use more words than fewer. For instance, during a recent chat review, we were discussing how the HE was trying to be encouraging, but ended up insulting the user by accident. So compare the response the HE made to a rewritten one that says the exact same thing, but has four superfluous words thrown in:

“I didn’t mean to be insulting.”

“Oh, I really didn’t meant to be insulting at all.”

Just by adding a few “fluff” words to the statement, you can see that it becomes far less blunt. And as a result, it comes across as slightly warmer. Of course, the HE could also have added an apology or explanation (for instance, “I’m sorry that came across the wrong way,” or “I was hoping to be encouraging, so I apologize if I didn’t convey that properly”), but … well, that falls under the guideline of “use more words,” anyway. So there you go. 🙂

Now, some people — especially trained writers — will hate the wordiness in the second statement. Yes, I know it makes you cringe to even think about writing in this matter. But please keep in mind that these fluff words do serve a purpose in this case. On most chats where you’re just answering user questions, be clear and succinct. That’s fine. But if you’re dealing with a frustrated user, it may be more important to be warm and empathetic first and foremost. And that’s where using more words than you believe to be necessary can help.

Basically, what you’re doing is “softening” your statements. In fact, the use of “softeners” to convey politeness is an actual topic in the field of linguistics. I talked about it at last year’s GM, and will write more about this in future posts. Personally, I find it to be a fascinating — and eminently useful — topic.

Again, it’s a bit of a hack, and it isn’t the only — or even the best — way to express warmth. But it is a quick guideline that can help if you’re ever in doubt.