Some people overstep the boundaries of good business practice when they communicate by telephone and email. Not being seen creates a false sense of security.
After surveying 427 subjects from 48 virtual teams in 16 industries, Richard Lepsinger, managing partner at OnPoint Consulting LLC in New York, advises leaders to be careful about using the most effective technology and to adjust their behavior to “close the virtual gap.”
He advocates email for sharing information or summarizing telephone conversations, while conference calls are more suited to “interactive sharing of ideas or plans.”
Gen Xer Christina Schlachter, founder of Boulder’s She Leads Inc., says the greatest misuse of technology in virtual communication comes from people who are 30 to 40 years old or are midlevel in their organizations.
“Virtual side-conversations have gone up exponentially over the past few years,” she says. “People think what they’re saying is more important than what you have to say.
“You can’t just tune someone out and have your side-conversation,” she adds. “Ask to do it later.”
Lepsinger points out that muting on the telephone often undermines focus and engagement. And Schlachter would like people to reconsider the role and value of this feature. She says people might seem respectful when tuning out background noise but instead abuse it to obscure divided attention.
This practice affects the ability to foster good relationships. She believes that a request to go mute, tendered with a reason that doesn’t apply to multitasking, is respectful.
Ensure that you’re in sync with the other person. Lepsinger says not to take silence on the telephone for granted. Instead, ask many more questions. He also advocates paraphrasing more frequently to increase understanding and compensate for the missing visual cues.
If people are hidden on the telephone, email truly puts up a wall. Schlachter concludes that honesty and authenticity are declining in corporate emails.
Many people “put a veil up (and) aren’t as accountable for communication as they used to be,” she says. “They’re trying to cover themselves without having to stand up for it or have an explanation.”
They carbon a host of recipients, announce rather than communicate, or post opinions on blogs using disrespectful language, all of the while not stating that they disagree.
Ryan Himmel, president and CEO of BIDaWIZ Inc., a tax and financial services company in New York, attributes these activities largely to company culture. They’re “foreign” to his business, which has three internal and four external employees along with 1,200 remote accounting and finance specialists on contract.
“My experience has been that emails are more thought-out and constructive from remote locations,” he says.
As emails multiply, Schlachter wants to buck the trend of the declining importance of good work relationships. She cautions against creating the impression that an email recipient doesn’t understand.
“Pick up the phone,” she says. “I often recommend to individuals I coach to meet or at least call and talk with virtual partners. I’m shocked by how many times I’ve heard people say to other employees when they finally meet, ‘Oh, I’ve seen your emails, but I never knew who you were.’ Make the extra effort to reach out and build relationships.”
Himmel says he’d “be surprised if (Schlachter) said that in-person interactions are drastically different and more open and accountable, as compared to company emails.” But at least they might foster face-to-face interaction rather than veiled communication.
Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2013 Passage Media.