6 minute read

How to Slack empathetically

Our team's key to communication while working from home? Empathy.

How to Slack empathetically

Hey y’all, I’m Annie, the Story + Concept Lead here at Gitwit. My role is an incredibly fun mishmash of different hats. Our team names brands and products, crafts narratives that speak to customers’ needs, and writes websites and ads. As you can imagine, these projects require a lot of creative collaboration — much of which, in the pandemic age, has shifted to Slack. I started to take note of good examples of empathetic communication via Slack, so I could put them into practice myself, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned here.

In the month of January 2021, Gitwit’s 30-person team sent 42,110 Slack messages.

While we desperately miss being around each other, the Gitwit team has gotten pretty good at computer-only collaboration. The key to this? Empathy in Slack form. The more that we depend on just text to communicate with each other, the more empathetic our messages must be. 

Empathetic communication leads to better collaboration, more momentum

Empathy is at the heart of everything Gitwit creates. It’s embedded as one of our most crucial core values. But it’s not just about empathy for the end-user. Practicing empathetic communication within our team helps create better and more creative work.

  • Creates clarity on next steps so teams can move faster
  • Results in better feedback so teams can create higher-quality work
  • Builds trust and confidence in each other so teams develop bolder creative ideas

It’s more than just being nice.

Simply said, empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining the world from their perspective. While being kind is certainly a component, empathetic communication more productively allows the communicator to anticipate the receiver's needs, wants, barriers, questions, etc. 

  • “How would this person like to be communicated with?”
  • “What questions might this person have that I can anticipate?”
  • “How can I communicate in a way that saves my team member time and/or effort?”
  • “What does this person need to know in order to move forward?”

While much of this can be conveyed in the context of in-person communication, it often needs to be more overt in text-only communication. 

Real Slacks from Real Nitwits 

Sometimes an example is best. Here’s a recent empathetic request from a Nitwit. Let’s break it down.

Requesting help

1. He starts off with a friendly greeting. This immediately creates rapport, and a friendly tone. 

2. He provides enough context for the ask. Dalton described the project he’s working on, and why he’s feeling like he needs help. This also describes where/how the copy will be used.

3. He ask if his team member is able to take this on, and is specific about what he needs. Dalton asks for three specific things: 1) review video copy, 2) review post copy, and 3) provide feedback, and gives a timeline: “Whenever you have time.” There isn’t an urgent due date here, so the teammate can schedule time to work on this accordingly.

Delivering Feedback

1. Start with what works. Tell your team member positive feedback first. This isn’t just about being nice (which does matter), it’s also orienting the team member to what is strong about the work so they maintain or even strengthen this in their next iteration.

2. Specific feedback is powerful. Providing specific feedback like Claire did tells your team member that you understand exactly what they were trying to accomplish. This can help build trust and confidence.

3. Offer ideas — not commands — when you can. Language like “maybe,” “could we try,” “what if we,” naturally opens up the floor to more ideas. Always offer ideas when you can, even if you think your idea isn’t very good. At the very least, your ideas will help your team members better understand what changes are needed and why.

Requesting Information from team members

1. Ask for information in a format that is easy to digest and fulfill. Emily’s list of questions is easy to digest — much more efficient than a long paragraph that reads like a novel. Team members can easily reference a numbered question in their answer (ex. “Still working on #4,” “I will ask about #7,” etc.). This list would also be easy to copy/paste to a client if needed. Fabian’s screenshots allow team members to see exactly what she needs without having to dig up the document she’s referencing, saving them time and effort.

Small Things Add Up

With remote work going nowhere (pandemic or not), quick text messaging is here to stay. With a medium that is designed to be casual, ephemeral, and immediate, it is easy to let empathy slip. 

Consider these small reminders — things we all know how to do! — to make Slack less of a nuisance, and more of a productive, creative space for you and your team. 

Does your request or feedback pass the, “OK, what do I do with this?” test?

If so, Slack on. 

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Annie Chang is a content strategist at Gitwit Creative, a digital creative agency that innovates products, brands, and ventures.