In times when the best possible choice is to work remotely, it’s really important to keep in mind that every member of a team needs to establish good, assertive and effective communication practices in each exchange.
Communicating face to face can be difficult in diverse teams: even when we take into account all the guidelines we learned and internalized, many times, we fail, whether by not being assertive enough with certain partner, not being clear enough with our message, or failing to achieve the goals of that specific exchange, etc. However, in those cases, we can rely on gestures and body language that go hand in hand with the message we try to convey; many times, that makes a difference.
Things get a little bit complicated when we aren’t face to face though. Although the means of communication might be in real time or via email, the person at the other end can’t really see our body language, which comprises 50% of all interactions, and this might cause, for example, a feeling of being misunderstood. Let’s take a look at this example, in which the speaker might be a bit sad, angry or confused, and it’s the recipient who’ll decide which tone applies:
“Hey! I wasn’t really expecting that comment.”
The same thing happens with the content of the message itself if I don’t get the attention of the person I’m addressing (this is a very common issue if I don’t specify who I’m actually addressing) or if I don’t get the answer I was looking for (this generally happens when I don’t specify what I need to know in that written exchange). For example:
“I’ve talked to the salesman and the deal may happen tomorrow.”
“I’ve talked to the salesman and he believes he can dispatch tomorrow. @Luis, should I go ahead with it?”
Next, you may find some tips to make remote communication effective and assertive:
1- If you’re writing in a group chat, bear in mind you should always specify who you’re addressing, whether it’s through the use of “@” or replying to the last message that person sent (if the tool allows it).
2- In case you need to clarify something that isn’t particularly clear, you should try and paraphrase what you made of it, so that the other person can clarify doubts and let you know if you understood what they meant to say.
3- When you send an email with more than one addressee, check the following questions are answered: Is it clear who I am addressing? Do I need a specific answer? Did I explain in detail what I want to say? If the answer to all those questions is “yes”, then it’s most likely you’ll get the answer you want and conversation will be fluent.
4- If you’re having a video conference, you should check the microphone and the camera work correctly, avoid background noise (or you can mute yourself when you aren’t talking) and take advantage of the camera to show a bit of body language during the talk.
5- Use different means of communication: the phone is still very straightforward when you need to clarify something that you don’t know how to say in writing, or when you need to clear up doubts after you receive certain information.
6- Always remember to ask for something, offer something or promise something in the right way; you should take into account it’s not the same to say: “I don’t seem to be able to finish this task on my own” as it is to say “Can anybody give me a hand with this?”, or even something more specific, like “Lucy, can you help me with this task?”
7- Take into account that your workmates can always refuse to do something, say they’ll do it later or accept the challenge right away, so it’s better to mention the time limit on certain tasks to avoid mixed messages.
In times of lockdown, we should all try and make life simpler and keep on working as a team; what’s more: We should all try to improve our working practices.