The Secret to Slack is Exclamation Points
Why slowing down means everything for Slack's instantaneous communication.
I’m not good at Slack. I know this because I’ve been told I’m not good at Slack. Over the past few years, we have spent good portions of some weekly retros going over communi-clusterf*cks that started with something I slacked. This happens because I’m not good at Slack.
I’m quite good at emails. I happen to think I’m quite good at in-human conversation. It’s the middle that gets messy.
The email format involves thought around what my goal is and how the recipient will receive any given sentence. It’s Samurai sword sharpness.
In person I can load a phrase with nuance or sarcasm and have it land because of my delivery and all the other context the human body conveys.
With Slack, I keep the nuance, add on bluntness, and strip out all the context. I’ve shot missiles that were supposed to be roses. I’ve caused people to literally jump out of their chair, red faced and arms stretched out to the side in the universal sign “are you freaking kidding me”, leaving me confused because I thought our conversation was completely innocuous.
Safe to say, Slack has been a big blindspot for me.
That is until I leaned in fully on exclamation points and context building. To start with the latter: before any question, I’ve learned to set the stage.
“What’s the latest on integrating that new dataset?” leaves so much up to chance - bad moods, stress, any lingering bad slack conversations from the day before.
“Hey I was going through my notes as I plan some conversations with potential beta-testers. I know we talked about this but my memory is hazy - was part of it going to be integrated this week? I can push the conversations if it’s close or I can plan to talk to it if I can’t show it. Appreciate it!”
That took a minute to write versus 7 seconds. I’ve learned that it saves me 20 minutes, it actually gets me the answer I’m looking for, and it makes people just so much more friendly. And the more you’re viewed as a clear, amenable communicator, the more information flows quickly. When they know why the question is arising and what the answer will help with, they escape the inevitable self-talk of “I wonder if there’s a wrong answer here.”
And in cases where I’m still not sure there’s 100% chance of it going right? I actually qualify my tone. Recently a colleague asked “should I send as is?” and I responded “what do you think?” To which she responded “guess that answers that.”
Oddly enough, I actually wanted to hear what she thought. Turns out, what she thought was that I was being completely sarcastic. From then on, I follow up phrases with “(I don’t mean that sarcastically at all).” It seems insane, but the rabbit holes I’ve dug for myself by being unclear have been far crazier.
And of course, adding in that exclamation point can help ensure that the tone is taken as intended. Exclamation points are signposts of friendliness standing tall in the maelstrom of dry, ambiguous digital communications. And funny enough, you actually start to mean them!