“Reading carefully is the new listening.
Writing clearly is the new empathy.
A phone or video call is worth a thousand emails.”
– Erica Dhawan, Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection No Matter the Distance
As life behind a screen continues to expand, many of us are digitally collaborating with teams that include both in-person and remote workers. We might be working closely with people we’ve never met face-to-face. Or struggling to interpret the true meaning behind a message without the help of non-verbal body language.
But virtual-work challenges are not insurmountable.
- Instituting clear team procedures to control how work gets done and how progress is measured
- Avoiding information overload through less frequent but predictable communication with clear expectations of response time
- Coordinating task-related processes to ensure each team member is fully contributing
7 Tips to Build Trust and Limit Misunderstanding in Your Digital Communication
Erica Dhawan’s book, Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance, offers practical advice for developing positive relationships and efficiency in our virtual communications.
- Define success. While it’s critical to identify and communicate the purpose and agenda for any meeting, it also important to clearly articulate what meeting success looks like. At the end of the meeting, summarize how you achieved success or what’s still needed.
- Get comfortable with silence. In video or phone calls, wait 5 seconds after asking a question to give people time to process their answer. The benefit is richer and more thoughtful responses, especially from introverts.
- Keep digging. Use electronic communication to gather sensitive information people may not want to express out loud or in front of others. For example, follow up conversations or meetings by asking people to privately share “What’s the bad news I don’t want to hear?” or “What might I have missed in our last meeting?”
- Don’t leave the other person hanging. Reply quickly to time-sensitive messages. If you don’t have time to respond right away, “I’ll respond later this afternoon,” is a respectful and appreciated response.
- Be thorough. Reply to all questions or comments in a message, not just a few.
- Make messages easy for others to respond. Instead of “What are your thoughts?” or “Let me know what you think”, offer options 1, 2 & 3 and ask “What is your preference?”
- Agree on acronyms. Use shorthand to quicken the pace of communication and shorten the dialogue between you and your team. For example:
- NRN – no reply necessary
- OTP – on the phone
- PRB – please reply by
- QQ – quick question
- TL;DR – too long didn’t read
- TYT – take your time
- WINFY – what I need from you
- Y/N – yes or no?
With a little effort towards how we read, write and react to digital communication, our relationships and productivity will continue to thrive.
Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org and send her your favorite virtual communication tips.