Give each other ample time online

One of the most important good practices we derived from the projects OZO and OZO 2 is that online we need to give each other ample time to express ourselves. During online communication, we should refrain from immediate reactions, or, worse, interruptions. We should give the person who is expressing themselves the feeling that we are curious as to what will follow next. Even when this person halts the sending of their messages for a moment, give them time. Let them feel that there is no hurry whatsoever. Let them finish their train of thoughts at their own pace. This good practice concerns chat, audio and video.

An important reason for this is technical. Online communications suffer from delays, so chances are that messages from participants are shown not chronologically but rather at random moments in the conversation. The outcome of this often is that multiple conversations come into existence in parallel and participants start to lose track.

The delays in the display of online messages are even worse during our current period of lockdown. Online traffic is at an all-time high as a result of people enjoying mass video streaming while in lockdown and mass live streaming servicing people working from home and teachers and artists trying to reach their audiences online. On request of the European Commission, Netflix and YouTube, together responsible for 24% of all internet traffic, have already reduced the quality of their video streaming significantly within the European Union in order to avoid breaking the internet. The next step will be a plea to all live streamers to consider whether their streaming really is essential since live streaming is even more demanding on the internet than video streaming.

A second reason why we need to give each other ample time to express ourselves online is that this situation forces us to reflect deeper and harder. Because we know that when we communicate others listen intently, we will be motivated to make our messages count. The same naturally holds true for others.

An important consequence of this intense listening by participants is that they will see each other’s communication style as “warm” (as understood by Amy Cuddy, John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut). This interpreted warm style will help participants open up to each other since warmth evokes mutual sympathy, tolerance, and kindness.

In a one-off online setting, the sympathy, tolerance, and kindness that can be achieved are fleeting. But if this online communication takes place on a regular basis with a limited set of potential participants, trust and even intimacy can grow between the participants, as we have seen happening in our projects.

If we return to the experience of the youngsters in our experiment this good practice would prevent them from feeling permanent too late in the conversation. Framing it in the concepts of Bruce Alexander, a repeated online communication in which we give each other ample time to express ourselves empowers our sense of achievement (others listen intently) and our sense of social belonging (emerging mutual sympathy, tolerance, kindness, trust and intimacy) – not bad for one small change in our behavior.