One word, many levels, many aspects, perspectives, and an awful lot of meaning behind it. Welcome to another YSSC newsletter article! The sentence we would like to talk about communication today is redundant in itself, but we are sure you know what we mean.

In everyday life, in and outside of the lab, we communicate with our surroundings. Non-verbally and verbally, spoken and written, with a long email or a brief note left on our colleague’s desk. Doing so, some of us have to concur bigger barriers than others: something simple like not speaking the language of the country you are currently in, or something more challenging like being blind or deaf. No matter your origin, current location or situation, we are all united by the fact that avoiding communication with others is nearly impossible.

Despite the fact that we all do it all the time, communicating is one of the hardest things to do and some people severely struggle, especially when it comes to personal issues. The point is if we all keep few things in mind and make them part of our routine, we can make communication easier and clear for ourselves and for everyone around us.

The basic points to remember are the same no matter if it is a work or a family/friends context. They all sound very simple and most of us are probably convinced we are considering them anyway, but it never hurts to give yourself a reflective look and question if there is really nothing you could improve on. Here are some bits of food for thought:

  • Audience: Whom are you talking/writing to? It is worth considering, but not over considering your relationship with this person. If it is your boss or another supervisor, be formal (doesn`t hurt to use titles like Prof./Dr.) in the first email, at least. For following emails, check how they signed their email and use that for your reply. In case of doubt: formal is better, they can let you know when they are would like to use something less formal.
  • Purpose: The content of your message. It can be a scientific result, a favour to ask, or a resignation. But how much do I need to say/write? In important emails or when addressing people who have not communicated with before, it’s good to write a rather long email at first, save it, close it and read it again the next day before sending it off. Maybe even have someone you trust read it. A fresh pair of eyes often has a clearer look on what is necessary. But be mindful to focus on essential information and to convey the central message without too much text.
  • Intention: Why are you communicating in this situation? Do you want to inform, ask, warn, give feedback? The list is very long. No matter what it is, do it respectfully. Include a proper introduction, like “Dear…”, “Good Morning…” and words like “please, thank you”. This will help to make people more likely to give enough attention to your message and reply. You may think this is completely normal, but it is always worth remembering, even when you are in a rush and talking to your direct colleagues. Phrases like “hope you a well” may seem to be just space keepers and we all know that nobody writes that to get a detailed answer, but it shows you have spent a second to be kind and that sets the tone for your message.
  • Not communicating: Is what you wish to say kind and respectful? Is it helpful? Is it necessary for your respective other to hear it? If it is none of the above, don`t say it. Sometimes it is better (and easier in the long run) to hold back, have a think, and reconsider.
  • Criticism: You are allowed to criticize people, yes! You might want to take a well thought out rather than impulsive approach to your critic. Constructive criticism can be extremely helpful, but is difficult to find the right tone and some people might not even take the right tone well. So take your time and consider your audience.

We hope to have inspired you to reflect a bit on communication and maybe you can think of lots more tips that could be added to this list, which as usual does not aspire to be complete. On the other hand, we also hope you are now not spending hours re-writing your emails. Remember everything has its balance.


This article was inspired by Dr. Maria Flora Mangano (University of Milan, and her plenary lecture at the ESN Virtual conference 2021.