The data is clear, communication really is key. It is the most sought out soft skill, it impacts every aspect of business, it helps improve employee satisfaction, and it turns managers into leaders. It all revolves around communication. So, why are we struggling so much with it?
Communication isn’t easy even when you are talking to someone you know, face-to-face, assuming the best and just trying to explain your side of the story. And when you are in front of a screen, communicating with someone across the world, a lot gets lost in translation. But, it doesn’t have to! There are a number of things you can do in order to improve your communication skills, arguably the most important skill in your entire arsenal.
What makes communication so important is that its value is the same for everyone across the board, from leaders to interns, in every industry and part of the world. Effective leaders start their preparation a long time before they assume leadership positions, but it’s also never too late to learn useful and valuable skills.
With all that in mind, let’s see what are some useful steps and actions you can take to start improving how you communicate remotely today.
1. Switch to writing first!
This is, most likely, the biggest adaptation from communication that happens face to face in real time. There are several reasons for that. First one is that in remote work settings, most communication should be asynchronous. Remote work offers flexibility, different time zones, sometimes odd working hours, and a lot of other things that work in the office doesn’t.
This is why you should always think of ways of turning a meeting into an email, which is a phrase often heard in the business. This means reaching for tools that can help, rather than just working on everything synchronously, with all of your coworkers. That means using direct messaging, emails, project management tools, brainstorming softwares, and solutions like Notion, that enable you to collaborate async.
In addition to this, remote setting communication requires a written follow up. Meeting notes, task list, actionable steps, anything that can help avoid misunderstandings and confusion. Just saying something isn’t enough, you should always make sure it’s written down!
2. Clarify and assume positive intent
Body language is 55% of how we interpret a message given to us. Other 38% is in the voice and the tone. Almost everything that we hear is actually not what the other person said. This is what makes remote communication so challenging. Someone types a feedback after we deliver a presentation saying nice one and without the context of their tone of voice, face expression and other non verbal cues, we could interpret in a thousand different ways. And only one is the correct one. So, how do we tackle this?
We start by assuming positive intent and always clarifying our own message. Instead of wondering and elevating the anxiety we feel, we should just assume the best scenario, and ask for clarification if we need it. Data says we believe people know what we mean around 90% of the time, but the research says that number is around 50, or even less.
Using emojis, directly asking for clarification and paraphrasing can help you
tremendously in improving those numbers.
From this day on, assume the role of Chief Repetition Officer. Make sure that you repeat things often, in multiple channels and formats. Think about the way you communicate with your users, clients and partners. Duplicate that way of thinking to your own internal relations and communications as well. Think about the needs of the people listening to you, their preferred ways of learning, the previous experiences you’ve had, and build on top of that.
Some aspects of communication to have in mind are mode, frequency, content, purpose, tone, channel, audience, timing and always follow up. The most important aspect you could include is context.
4. Give people time to think and triage
And the last, but certainly not least part about effective communication in remote settings, is the time you give to your coworkers to read your message, process it and respond. Everyone has their own needs, ways of working, schedules and priorities, and even if you can get a response immediately, it doesn't mean that you necessarily should. Allowing everyone to work following their own pace will lead to a much greater outcome for all.
How can you know if you are being successful?
There are some key performance indicators that can tell you that you are on the right path:
People are meeting their goals
You ask and hear clarifying questions
More than 60% of your communication happens async
Team members don’t rush to respond when you message them
Your documents are being read
And let’s leave you with this - improving your communication might be the most prolonged and challenging task, it is okay not to see results right away. But every small improvement you can implement will lead to better results in the future, and a greater experience for everyone involved!