Managing Digital Communication In A Diverse Workplace

Overcoming Barriers To Digital Communication During Service Delivery

Communication is the process of transmitting information and common understanding from one person to another (Keyton, 2011). Since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the way we work, digital communication has become an inevitable need in the workplace. Modern businesses transformed to digital communication to address customer concerns in real time via live chat platforms. In a live chat, customers can ask questions about service-related information via online-based synchronous media and a human service representative will respond accordingly (Verhagen, Van Ness, Feldberg, and Van Dolen, 2010, cited in McLean and Osei-Frimpong, 2017).

Although it is an effective tool for boosting productivity in the workplace and increasing social interaction with customers, there are some barriers that cause miscommunication between the live chat representatives and customers in a diverse workplace like Dubai. The lack of nonverbal communication, the absence of emotional content, and the misinterpretation of words could lead to disappointment, ambiguity, and misunderstanding.

On the other hand, the live chat representative could have difficulties identifying the customers’ culture through chat. Intercultural communication is the study and practice of communication across cultural contexts (Bennett, 1998). Although it is necessary to understand cultural differences to communicate effectively in a diverse workplace, it is difficult to identify the customer’s culture during the chat conversation.

Communication As A Complex System: Exploring Challenges In Digital Modalities

Communication as a system is not to be understood on a simple model of action and reaction. There is complexity involved in this system (Birdwhistell, 1959). Many factors could contribute to the complexity of communication, such as the lack of nonverbal cues between the customer and the representative, and the misinterpretation of words. Watzlawick and Beavin (1967) confirm that our communication involves digital and analogic modalities. Digital communication is one in which arbitrary signs are manipulated according to the logical syntax of the language. In other words, it is what the person says and what their words actually mean.

On the other hand, analogical communication refers to nonverbal cues, such as voice, facial expressions, gestures, and cadence of speech. In live chat conversation, neither the customer nor the representative is able to observe the body language or hear the tone of voice of the other person to know their intention. This could lead to customer frustration and cause serious communication issues.

For example, a customer sends this message via chat: “My plan was not renewed on time, please help me to renew it.” The representative responds: “What type of plan are you referring to?” Due to the lack of analogical communication, it is possible that the customer will interpret this short and formal question as sarcasm, rather than as a genuine attempt by the representative to validate and confirm the type of plan to identify the problem. In addition, the customer could assume that the representative is rude based on the lack of empathy and support in their response. This could happen due to the lack of analogical communication or the body language and tone of voice in live chat conversations.

Nonverbal Cues

Phutela (2015) states that it is impossible to communicate without sending nonverbal cues. It plays a significant role in all forms of communication. Using it allows us to understand and determine attitudes that cannot be expressed in words. Therefore, nonverbal communication reduces the possibility of problems occurring during service delivery and has a significant impact on customer satisfaction (Anderson and Narus, 1990, cited in Jung and Yoon, 2011).

Although the lack of nonverbal communication could lead to misunderstanding, Krohn (2004) noted that emoticons and emojis could be used in the absence of nonverbal cues in order to convey emotions. Emoticons have been defined as small digital images or icons used to express an idea, emotion, etc., in electronic communications (Oxford Dictionary, 2017). In order to achieve better communication, organizations that adopt digital communication and customers who use this method should consider this feature when using live chat to transmit their nonverbal cues.

Lack Of Emotional Content

The lack of emotional content could lead to misunderstandings between the online chat representative and the customer. Compared to face-to-face interactions, online interactions can appear artificial and present challenges regarding the expression of emotional content such as empathy and assurance (Truel et al., 2013, cited in McLean and Osei-Frimpong, 2017).

Live chat representatives often use canned responses when they initiate a live chat with a customer (Kim, Cavedon, and Baldwin, 2010). When the live chat representative uses automatic responses, the customer may perceive the representative as unreliable. This is because the conversation becomes robotic due to the representative abandoning meaningful and tailored interactions with the customer. As a result, many customers may consider the online environment as inferior to traditional service options (Chattaraman et al., 2012).

McLean (2017) states that live chat constitutes an effective service recovery tool. It requires straightforward answers to identify the issue in a timely manner. The participants must be aware of the purpose of live chat conversation to customize their message (Angelelli, 2000). By understanding the goal of online chat messages, representatives will empathize when needed and refrain from using canned long messages to avoid miscommunications.

Identification Of Culture

Identifying each customer’s culture is not possible through live chat. This could prevent the customer care representative from selecting the proper writing style that matches each culture. Myer has introduced the eight scales model to show a spectrum of cultures that range from one extreme to another. The first scale is communication where she classified cultures into low-context cultures and high-context cultures. In high-context cultures like Eastern countries, communication is sophisticated and indirect, while in low-context cultures like Western countries, communication is explicit and clear. A high-context culture prefers oral communication, while a low-context culture prefers written communication (Myer, 2014).

In terms of online messaging, low-context cultures use it for quick communication. High-context cultures tend to focus on longer forms of communication rather than simple and short answers. This analysis indicates that the Germans, Americans, and Swedish prefer direct and straightforward messages, whereas Arab countries, such as Egypt or Jordan, prefer long texts.

Although Myer’s model has achieved great success in the modern workplace, it is not likely to be effective when a customer care representative in a diverse environment tries to apply it to live chat conversation. As experts in contact center management, customer care representatives are instructed to treat all customers equally with dignity and respect, in accordance with the brand promise and values regardless of their nationalities, cultural beliefs, or gender. It is not the practice to verify the nationality of customers before contacting them to better understand their behaviors or design a communication method that is suitable for their culture.

Although Meyer has written a very important book to identify the behavior of each culture to communicate better, live chat representatives will not be able to identify the culture of each customer. This could be a barrier while using live chat communication in a diverse workplace.


Miscommunication is a failure to make information or your ideas and feelings clear to somebody or to understand what somebody says to you (Oxford Dictionary, 2017). This definition confirms that miscommunication is a two-way street. It can be caused by the representative or the customer while using the live chat platform. Clyne (1996) believes that successful communicators are aware of their own expectations of communication, as well as their interlocutors’ expectations. They are able to communicate in a “culturally neutral” manner and understand what questions to ask in order to resolve any potential communication problems.

The Ladder Of Inference Model And Grice’s Maxims: Maintaining Good Communication Practices

To maintain good communication in live chat, it is important to consider the ladder of inference model to stop making false assumptions and conclusions that may lead to complaints. Asking open-ended questions will assist participants of different cultures in understanding the real meaning of the message (Ross, 1994).

The use of Paul Grice’s maxims when interacting with customers via live chat will also enhance communication. Grice presented a principle with four maxims to define human communication (Grice, 1989). He summarized this principle as follows:

  1. Quantity
    Give as much information as is required and no more than is required.
  2. Quality
    Do not say what is false or that for which you lack adequate evidence.
  3. Relation
    Be relevant.
  4. Manner
    Be clear, be orderly, and avoid ambiguity or jargon.
    (Ibid, p. 28. Kheirabadi, R. and Aghagolzadeh, F. 2012).

The live chat representatives have to provide accurate and specific information supported by evidence. They should avoid ambiguous language and share website links or useful articles that assist the customer in understanding the product and how it works.

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.
(Grice, 1989, p. 26).

With maxims of conversation, customers of diverse cultural backgrounds will be able to effectively communicate with representatives through the live chat platform.


As a conclusion, although many advances have been made to facilitate digital communication in a diverse workplace, there are still some barriers that prevent its success. Customers could experience difficulties such as the inability to type quickly or other problems related to the use of assistive technologies (Calvo, R., Arbiol, A., and Iglesias, A., 2014). To manage digital communication effectively, customers need to familiarize themselves with technology to enhance their interaction skills and improve their ability to understand difficult concepts.

On the other hand, companies that use this digital method of communication are responsible for educating their customers by sending them instructional videos to engage them. Companies should also invest in employee training as part of their Customer Experience strategy to improve their knowledge and develop their level of intercultural communication competency.

Therefore, recognizing diversity, developing emotional intelligence skills, applying Paul Grice’s maxims, considering the purpose or goal of conversation, asking questions to avoid confusion, and engaging customers should assist modern organizations in reducing the problems associated with digital communication within a diverse workplace.


  • Angelelli, C. 2000. “Interpretation as a communicative event: A look through Hymes’ lenses.” Meta: journal des traducteurs/Meta: Translators’ Journal, 45(4), 580-592.
  • Bennett, M. J. 1998. “Intercultural communication: A current perspective.” Basic concepts of intercultural communication: Selected readings, 1, 1-34.
  • Calvo, R., Arbiol, A., and Iglesias, A. 2014. “Are all chats suitable for learning purposes? A study of the required characteristics.” Procedia Computer Science, 27, 251-260.
  • Chattaraman, V., Kwon, W. S., and Gilbert, J. E. 2012. “Virtual agents in retail websites: Benefits of simulated social interaction for older users.” Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 2055-2066.
  • Clyne, M. and Clyne, M. G. 1996. Inter-cultural communication at work: Cultural values in discourse. Cambridge University Press.
  • Grice, H. P. 1989. Studies in the way of words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Hymes, D. 2005. “Models of the interaction of language and social life: toward a descriptive theory.” Intercultural discourse and communication: The essential readings, 1, 4-16.
  • Jung, H. S. and Yoon. H. H. 2011. “The effects of nonverbal communication of employees in the family restaurant upon customers’ emotional responses and customer satisfaction.” Int. J. Hosp. Manag., 30 (3), pp. 542-550.
  • Keyton, J. 2011. Communication and organizational culture: A key to understanding work experience. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Kheirabadi, R. and Aghagolzadeh, F. 2012. “Grice’s cooperative maxims as linguistic criteria for news selectivity.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 2(3), 549.
  • Kim, S.N., Cavedon, L., and Baldwin. T. 2010. “Classifying Dialogue Acts in One-on-One Live Chats.” In Proceedings of the 2010 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, p. 862–871, Cambridge, MA. Association for Computational Linguistics.
  • Krohn, F. B. 2004. “A generational approach to using emoticons as nonverbal communication.” Journal of technical writing and communication, 34(4), 321-328.
  • Mayer, E. 2014. The Culture Map. Public Affairs.
  • McLean, G. and Osei-Frimpong, K. 2017. “Examining satisfaction with the experience during a live chat service encounter-implications for website providers.” Computers in Human Behavior, 76, 494-508.
  • Neale, S. 1992. “Paul Grice and the Philosophy of Language.” Linguistics and Philosophy, 15(5), 509–559.
  • Phutela, D. 2015. “The importance of non-verbal communication.” IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 9(4), 43.
  • Ross, R. 1994. “The ladder of inference.” In The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization, 242-246.
  • Simpson, J, ed. 2017. Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J., and Jackson, D. 2017. “Some tentative axioms of communication.” In Communication theory (pp. 74-80). Routledge.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top