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Professional Standards for Communication in a Digital World

Article contributed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope, and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Director @ Eating Disorder Hope

In the age of digital consumerism, the manner in which we interact and communicate with one another has changed drastically.  Smart phones and tablets have become commonplace in our daily routines, with many individuals heavily relying on their electronic devices to maintain schedules and lives.  In fact, research data has shown us that as of January 2014, 90% of American adults have a cell phone and 58% of American adults have a smart phone [1].  Smart phone owners likely carry their device with them throughout the day, with 67% of cell phone owners checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls – even if their device is not actively ringing [1].  Smart phones are utilized for a variety of tasks, including scheduling meetings, paying bills, making reservations, taking photographs and more.

With the face of communication rapidly evolving, the effort to connect with individuals becomes more important than ever.  As a majority of messages are conveyed via email or text, the person-ability that is often craved in human interactions easily becomes lost.  Professionalism, warmth, and positivity can certainly fall through the cracks as messages are quickly typed and sent through a rush of phone calls, meetings, and email responses.

As professionals that function in the eating disorder community, our outreach efforts to sufferers and their families are highly important.  It is crucial to remember that behind every email, inquiry, message, or phone call, exists an individual who is struggling and dealing with the devastating consequences of an eating disorder.  For many individuals who do reach out for help, their journey in arriving to that point has likely been one filled with confusion and desolation.

Many of us who work in the field of eating disorders are united by our deep desire to help these individuals recover and heal.  It is often our degree of compassion and empathy that enables us to make strides and persist in this beautiful yet challenging community.  As many of us interact with patients, clients, and colleagues via our smart phones and tablets, here are important reminders to help us execute our communications with continued professionalism and grace:

  • Help Clients Feel Comfortable: In the same way that you would extend friendliness to someone in person, it is important to continue this same etiquette over the phone or email.  This could be done by personalizing messages to include names, taking the time to convey how you want to meet their needs, and making yourself available to their questions or concerns.  Utilizing emoticons and acronyms can help develop a comfortable tone, but use with discretion.
  • Avoid Jargon:  Using unfamiliar terminology or lingo can confuse a client/patient or cause them to misinterpret what you are trying to communicate.  Keep you messages clear and concise as you translate your thoughts and responses.
  • Be open to “small talk”:  People you interact with will appreciate small details that you take the time to remember.  In your contacts list, jot down a couple personable details about individuals you are communicating with to help prompt you in your discussions.  Asking about family members, pets, latest trips, etc. can express a depth of warmth that is sometimes missed in daily messages/emails.
  • Protect the privacy of those you interact with:  With the capacity to rapidly respond to emails/texts, protecting private information can be overlooked.  Before forwarding emails or messages, be sure to scan your correspondence for potential information that should be kept confidential.  This regular practice will help protect you and your clients and maintain your professionalism.
  • Reread your emails and messages:  With responses made at a moment’s notice, messages can be communicated poorly if language, grammar, and punctuation are sub-par.  Take an extra minute to re-read your responses and messages before sending to double check your spelling and grammar.  Making this routine in your communication practice can help ensure that your messages are clear, concise, and professional.

Communication is a powerful tool that can be highly effective and helpful when used appropriately and effectively.  Maintaining standards of professionalism and kindness can help elevate your communication skills, especially in these days of digital interactions.

References:

[1]: Pew Research Internet Project, “Mobile Technology Fact Sheet”, http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/ Accessed 24 April 2014.

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