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Can you hear me now? Communicating in the digital age

Written on May 1, 2020

Published in the May/June 2018 issue of CPA Voice. 

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA content manager

Miscommunication in business can damage even the most promising careers. Unfortunately, when it comes to communicating digitally, this possibility is even greater.

“You need to be sure you’re using the right level of written formality for your audience,” said Kristen Rampe, CPA, of Kristen Rampe Consulting. “If you’re talking with a peer you might use abbreviations, but if you start sending that stuff to your boss or client they’re going to think ‘This is how this person always writes.’”


Texts, emails and instant messages are just a few of the ways you can communicate without picking up the phone or speaking to someone in person. And while it’s nice to have more options to connect with others, this means certain parts of getting your message across becomes trickier.

Rampe teaches a business writing class where she developed a formula for those looking to hit the right tone in their digital communication: relationship + purpose = style/mode.

“When you think about communicating with any person on any topic, consider your relationship with them,” Rampe said. “For the purpose, what are you trying to do, achieve or get? When you put those things together then you can figure out which style is appropriate.”

If you’re talking to your sibling about grabbing dinner after work, shooting a text with only emojis is no big deal. But when messaging a superior at work about an upcoming presentation, a polite email is more appropriate. This also works when speaking with clients.

“You have a higher bar with that client relationship and less social capital to chip away at,” Rampe said. “With your peers you hang out together and when you are misunderstood you can get clarification quicker.”

How you communicate digitally is also part of your professional brand. In some instances, you might communicate with someone exclusively through email for an extended period of time, where they only know you through what they read on screen. If your messages are full of typos, or have a tone too informal or inappropriate, this doesn’t bode well for your relationship long term.

Regardless of what form of digital communication you choose, there’s a risk of losing the “spirit” of your intended message after you press send. You aren’t able to convey the tone or body language you can in person, and someone might misinterpret your message creating confusion, or worse, offense. Keep in mind some things are still best delivered in person or through a phone call.

“When you get into those situations where something could or would be misconstrued, or if you think there are going to be high emotions, that’s the time to move away from the written word and go into spoken word,” Rampe said.

And if you’re not sure how someone prefers to be reached, don’t be afraid to simply ask, she said. Avoid assuming that someone wants to be reached a certain way solely based on their age.

“What it comes down to in the end is if you want to communicate with someone and it’s important your message is received, you need to deliver it in a way that you’re not creating unnecessary barriers for that person,” Rampe said.

So if you know your boss isn’t a fan of texting, texting her project updates because you think it’s quicker probably isn’t the best decision. You don’t need to agonize over every message you send, but make it a practice to consider the other individual you’re speaking with. There is a lot to conquer when it comes to the business world, digital miscommunication shouldn’t stand in your way.

Kristen Rampe, CPA, is the owner of Kristen Rampe Consulting and can be reached at