Organizations are now relying on virtual communication mechanisms and all methods have both positive and negative consequences. A face-to-face meeting is easier for fostering relationships and less likely to lead to misunderstandings. However, such meetings can be inconvenient and costly given the geographical locations of individuals. Email is fast and efficient but can lead to misunderstandings, especially when the individuals concerned have never met each other.
Poor communication leads to poor business decisions, personal frustration and can damage good working relationships between individuals as well as teams. Such outcomes are also likely to impact negatively on the productivity of the organization.
You can help your client by assisting him consider three key aspects. Those of his ideal professional image, understanding emotions and effective communications.
Everything we say and do is linked to our ‘personal brand’. Personal branding refers to the way we market ourselves to the world. The first step to interacting in an appropriate virtual business manner is to consider what type of ‘brand’ your client wishes to be recognized for. The next part is to consider his values. Values provide meaning and the motivation to act together with a framework for decision-making. Every person has a set of values they live by and these can be seen as a set of preferences. For example, I would prefer my colleagues to consider me a person of integrity so I behave in a way that demonstrates this by being honest and never promising something I cannot deliver. Lastly, the concept of a unique selling point (USP) such as what he wants others to say about him. For example, that he is someone who creates great teams.
Having considered his professional image, values and USP it becomes easier to communicate this in his virtual dealing with others.
Unlike face-to-face conversations, virtual interactions leave out tone of voice, body-language and context and this can lead to misunderstandings. Capital letters, use of quotations, emoticons, exclamation points, punctuation, bullet points and style communicate the meaning of a word or message. For example, “I am frustrated by” reads differently from “I AM FRUSTRATED BY!!” where the capital letters indicate a more extreme emotion to the one the sender may have meant to portray.
There are three aspects to consider about emotions when using virtual forms of communication, identifying your own emotions, recognizing other people’s emotions and the act ‘as if’ and play cautious factor.
Your client will need self awareness when it comes to identifying his own emotions. What type of a person is he? Is he fast thinking and action orientated getting frustrated when people do not appear to get the point? Is he someone who likes to know all the detail before he acts? Such characteristics get exaggerated when working virtually.
He might want to list a range of emotions he experiences in his day to day working life and list these together with the up and down sides of the ways that other people respond to his emotions. For example, have other people ever told him that he “doesn’t suffer fools gladly”? If so, this is likely to mean he can sometimes be abrasive or sharp and tends to show his frustrations. Such feelings and actions get amplified when using virtual communications.
Just as your client experiences emotions, other people are just as likely to express their emotions. If he notices someone making the same point again and again, he may think the person is frustrated when in fact they are feeling confused or just exasperated.
As emotions can be easily misinterpreted, he will need to keep the possibility of this idea in the front of his mind. He will need to play cautious and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Far better to be cautious than enter into a heated argument that could damage his relationship and hinder a positive outcome. Perhaps you could help him by exploring statements he could use such as, “I’m not sure if I am getting the point I want to make across adequately” or, “I’m getting the feeling that I may not be expressing myself clearly”.
There are times when it may be better to ask his team to opt for a teleconference rather than trying to express thoughts in a virtual world. It is only when a level of trust and understanding has been achieved amongst those present that the likelihood of a successful and meaningful outcome is likely to be achieved in the virtual world.
When using virtual communication vehicles you can help your client consider what type of conversations will be more effective and how to develop better working relationships.
To avoid miscommunication, help your client think about what he wants to say and how it could be perceived by others, remembering that jokes or humour can be easily misinterpreted. Keeping a polite and measured tone saying only the things he would feel comfortable saying in person helps. As he is dealing with people from differing cultures, it is important to remember that what might be deemed acceptable in one culture is not in another.
Although virtual communication is useful it is only one form of communication and it has its limitations. If there are difficult or complicated issues to discuss then he would be better choosing another form of communication to deal with these if possible.