It is possible to have nuanced and productive conversations online in text-based interactions.

It is possible to have nuanced and productive conversations online in text-based interactions.

Some of the skills that are important online overlap with the skills that are important offline, eg:

  • Making sure that you’re understanding someone correctly and that you’re understanding them correctly (some of the mechanisms are different, but the need to remember to do it is the same).
  • Remembering that no one knows everything, including you.
  • Remembering that you can decide who you want to talk to, and that you don’t have to have intense conversations with everyone who pays attention to you.
  • Keeping in mind that the person you’re talking to is also a real person.

Some skills that can be useful in person don’t work online, for instance:

  • Paying attention to other people’s body language can be useful in person, but online no one can see body language.
  • Expressing your thoughts through body language can be useful in person, but online no one can see body language.
  • Making or faking eye contact can be a useful way of signaling respect or attention in person, but it doesn’t work online. (It’s not always useful or possible in person either, it just can be sometimes for some people.)
  • Paying attention to tones of voice can be useful in person, but tones of voice aren’t available in text in the same way. (There are other ways to convey tone online though.)
  • In person, clothes or physical space can sometimes express certain things about what kind of conversation it is. Online, this is much less possible even if you post pictures.
  • (A caveat: I’m mentioning these skills because they are things that a lot of people rely on heavily, but none of them are universally useful or universally possible. For instance, sometimes eye contact can make it impossible to have a conversation.)

Some of the skills used for online conversations are different from the skills used in person, for instance:

Short version: Having good conversations on the internet is very possible, but some of the skills are different from the skills of in-person conversations. It can be a learning curve, especially at first — and it helps to keep in mind that it’s possible.

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