Using platforms like Slack and Teams to communicate with colleagues can be like a game of telephone: As a message makes its way from the sender’s keyboard through the internet and onto the recipient’s screen, there’s plenty of room for intent, tone, and meaning to get warped (especially, often, between manager and direct report). But there are solutions that employees can implement, and norms that workplaces can create, to encourage more effective communication with these tools.

We recently spoke with psychologist Dr. Grin Lord, founder and CEO of mpathic, an artificial-intelligence platform that analyzes text-based conversations to offer users suggestions for making their messages more empathetic (Lord has previously described her company as “Grammarly for empathy”). Here are her insights about some of the most common communication pitfalls in text-based communication, as well as how to mitigate or avoid them:

Not establishing the context of a message up front.

When someone receives a message out of the blue “one of the first things that is missing is context around the thought process, the thinking, where things are coming from,” Lord explains. Without that context, the understood meaning of the message depends largely on the recipient’s emotional state and what else they have going on. “People will project tone, they will project all sorts of things,” she says, and “you don’t know what they’re going through.”

What to say:

“We like to coach people to have preparatory remarks or structuring remarks,” Lord says. Preface your message with an indicator of what it’s going to contain, i.e. “Would it be all right if I gave you some feedback?” or “Can we debrief that meeting?”

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