In some form or fashion, working virtually is the reality for most of us today. And whether you’re working with colleagues, customers, vendors or others, there are more tools and apps than ever to help you collaborate across town, across the country or across the globe.
But no matter how many tools and devices you have, effective collaboration still comes down to how effectively the parties communicate with each other. Particularly when you don’t have the advantage of visual cues, tone of voice or cultural nuances, the chances for miscommunication are high.
Here are 4 steps for making sure your communications get across in the way you intended, no matter what technology you use (or even if you’re communicating in person!):
1. Give them the context: You develop your communications with a specific frame of reference in mind, but your audience doesn’t necessarily have the same mindset going in. This is one of the reasons why email and other brief written communications can be so prone to misunderstanding. The context isn’t there, so the receiver feels like it’s coming out of the blue or misinterprets your intention.
Preempt the problem by letting them know upfront what’s going on, why you’re communicating and what the big picture is. This is important to clarify both for yourself (before you communicate) and for your listener.
2. Give them the agenda: Everyone’s juggling multiple priorities. We all have very full plates. Especially when you’re working with dispersed team members who may not have much daily interaction, rambling messages or confusing requests can feel frustrating, intrusive and disrespectful of people’s time.
Don’t just wing it. Give people a high-level agenda or plan that sets expectations about what you’re trying to accomplish in a way that’s appropriate for the format or communication vehicle.
3. Give them the what: Of course, the facts and data—the what—are important, but oftentimes, the tendency is to jump right in to the content. If you haven’t set up the context and expectations, people may misinterpret what you’re saying, have trouble following your train of thought or simply tune out.
Dive into the content after doing those first two steps, and people will understand the data within the framing you desire. This will help you deliver it in a much more effective way while giving your listener the critical information they need.
4. Give them a way to engage: Stories and interaction are what allow people to quickly make connections with what you’re talking about—and that means what you’re communicating is more likely to stick with them.
We do this naturally in our heads, trying to make connections to what it is we’re hearing, so if you can facilitate that process through relevant stories, you’ll find you’ll get much better impact and people will really understand what you mean. Do this throughout your communications, and whenever possible, make it a two-way interaction so people feel involved and that their participation matters.
Because these steps hit all of the quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model, no matter how diverse the thinking preferences of your audience, you’ll be able to “speak the language” of their thinking to make sure your communication gets across—whether it’s across the phone, across email, across Skype or across the room—in the way you intended.
Try them out in your next virtual meeting or in the next team communications you send out to see how it works!