No matter how far along you may be into telecommuting to work due to the changes brought on by COVID-19, you are likely still learning the ropes.
This especially goes for supervisors and managers who have needed to exchange physical meeting spaces for Zoom Rooms and hallway brainstorming for Slack threads.
Now, more than ever, businesses, nonprofits, and government entities are thinking about what they say, how they say it, and which tool they want to use. In other words: Rhetoric.
Sharon Storch, Ph.D., and Whitney Gent, Ph.D., are assistant professors in the UNO School of Communication with expertise in rhetoric, organizational communication, advocacy communication, and digital communication technologies; and Tammie Kennedy, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English, with a expertise in rhetorical theory and cultual rhetoric.
Here is their advice if you are struggling to find your footing in a new digital workspace:
Remember (or Learn) the Basics of Rhetoric
Gent says Aristotle provides us with a simple framework for understanding how rhetoric has worked: Logos (Logic), Pathos (Emotion), and Ethos (Credibility of the Author).
"These can be expressed verbally, visually, or in written form. The balance of these appeals depends on the situation to which the speaker or author is responding."
Additionally, don't assume rhetoric is political or selfish.
"Rhetoric is how we use language and how language uses us," Kennedy says. "No argument, position, visual, or attempt to communicate an idea or perspective is free from rhetoric because communicating with other people means that we must find the most effective language and strategies to translate our thinking into words and these strategies impact the way we think about the topic."
Keep Your Audience in Mind
Whether you lead a team of one or 1,000, being aware of your own role and who you are trying to communicate with will help make sure your message is getting across.
According to Kennedy, some common questions to ask yourself are:
"What does the writer or speaker (rhetor) know? How is rhetorc regarded in terms of ethos (credibility). If marginalized in some way, how might the rhetor carve out a space to be heard? Who is your audience? What does the audience already know? What are their expectations? What is your purpose? To persuade? Entertain? Inform? Express? Or a combination of these purposes?"
Ultimately, Gent adds, it isn't just about knowing about the organizational positions and motivations of individuals are on your team, but being considerate of their current personal situation.
"Whether you are giving them instructions or trying to persuade them to act in a particular way, the more attention you pay to who and where they are, the more you will be able to adapt your message to them."
Keep in Mind What is On and Around You During Meetings
We've all had the struggle of finding that 'perfect' place to have a Zoom meeting or conference call only to realize your pet needs attention or your child has woken up early from their nap.
Storch says there are certain things you can't control in a virtual workspace and others you can. One of those things is to continue to dress as per office expectations and practices as well as paying mind to the environment around you.
"Attendees or participants need to consider ways in which they can attend and contribute with professionalism. Having items around you, behind you, on walls, etc. can be distracting to the discussion and distract from your overall message. In order for individuals to focus on the message you are conveying, select a well-lit space with minimal to no distractions behind you or around you."
Set Up Time and Space for "Water Cooler" Conversations
While technology has allowed us to stay connected, even during isolation, there are certain aspects of an office environment that do not translate over as easily, like the random idea someone had in the hallway that turns into your next big project.
"Please consider, how are you and your teams cultivating intentional moments within meetings or in other times of the day?," Storch says. "Consider the social styles of your workers and coworkers. Further, in this time of uncertainty, how are you ensuring employees are heard and valued?"
Additionally, Gent says that the fear of lost productivity while 'working from home' can cause some to micromanage, but that's a big mistake.
"This only communicates mistrust, and it does not recognize the social needs that in-person work helps to fulfill. Water cooler conversations and momentary YouTube breaks are a part of the in-person workday. It has to be okay for other versions of that to emerge in this new setting too."
Make the Technology Work for You, Not the Other Way Around
It can be easy, with multiple new tools at our disposal, to always chase after the most flashy thing or over compensate and try to force technology into a situation where it doesn't belong.
Before you get started on scheduling a meeting or assigning a task, be sure that you are delivering those messages appropriately.
"If you have a sensitive message, or one that could be misinterpreted, deliver that message over the phone or video call, not in a text-only medium," Gent says. "Give your co-workers as many cues to your meaning as possible, allowing them to see your facial expression and/or hear your tone. And remember, as always, to consider your audience."
Storch says that clarity, consistency, and compassion are three key traits to keep in mind as everyone deals with new ways of doing things.
"With increased uncertainties, carefully consider and develop and share the agenda or goals of a meeting. Communicate a structure to the meeting - share that structure, and pre-develop ways that participants can share and feel welcome; this includes soliciting feedback about how the meeting, project, or brainstorming session went."
No matter you role, UNO stands ready to support you during this time to ensure you can:
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.