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Develop Your Communication Skills

Communication is an integral aspect of any successful workplace – whether it is a physical or virtual office. Communication is about more than just exchanging information. It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information.

colleagues sitting row talking
Source Freepik

Effective communication is also a two-way street. It’s not only how you convey a message so that it is received and understood by someone in exactly the way you intended, it’s also how you listen to gain the full meaning of what’s being said and to make the other person feel heard and understood.

Effective communication is the glue that helps you deepen your connections to others and improve teamwork, decision making, and problem solving. It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.

Without effective communication it is likely that your role within a team will become difficult and your success less likely.

Every online worker faces the same challenge; learn how to communicate effectively with a virtual team who speak different languages in different timezones with only the tools at your disposal.

Impossible? No.

Your Behaviour Matters

cheerful woman on a video call
Source Freepik

1. Listening

Being a good listener is one of the best ways to be a good communicator.

No one likes communicating with someone who only cares about putting in her two cents, and does not take the time to listen to the other person. Instead, practice active listening.

Active listening involves paying close attention to what the other person is saying, asking clarifying questions, and rephrasing what the person says to ensure understanding (“So, what you’re saying is…”).

Through active listening, you can better understand what the other person is trying to say, and can respond appropriately.

2. Nonverbal Communication

Even via video conferencing your body language, eye contact, hand gestures, and tone all colour the message you are trying to convey.

A relaxed, open stance (arms open; not folded), and a friendly tone will make you appear approachable, and will encourage others to speak openly with you.

Eye contact is also important; you want to look the person in the eye to demonstrate that you are focused on the person and the conversation however, be sure not to stare at the person, which can make him or her uncomfortable.

Also pay attention to other people’s nonverbal signals while you are talking. Often, nonverbal signals convey how a person is really feeling. For example, if the person is not looking you in the eye, he or she might be uncomfortable or hiding the truth.

3. Clarity and Concision

Try to convey your message in as few words as possible.

Say what you want clearly and directly, whether you’re speaking to someone in person, over Skype, or via email. If you ramble on, your listener will either tune you out or will be unsure of exactly what you want.

Think about what you want to say before you say it; this will help you to avoid talking excessively and/or confusing your audience.

4. Friendliness

Through a friendly tone, a personal question, or simply a smile, you will encourage your coworkers to engage in open and honest communication with you. This is important in both face-to-face and written communication.

When you can, personalise your emails to coworkers and/or employees – a quick “I hope you all had a good weekend” at the start of an email can personalise a message and make the recipient feel more appreciated.

5. Confidence

It is important to be confident in all of your interactions with others. Confidence ensures your coworkers that you believe in and will follow through with what you are saying.

Exuding confidence can be as simple as making eye contact or using a firm but friendly tone (avoid making statements sound like questions).

The same idea can be communicated in a way that reflects confidence or a lack of it. For example:

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Sounds far more confident than:

You must have many other applicants, but I hope you will contact me sometime in the future.

Of course, be careful not to sound arrogant or aggressive. Be sure you are always listening to and empathising with the other person.

6. Empathy

Even when you disagree with an employer or coworker it is important for you to understand and respect their point of view.

Using phrases as simple as “I understand where you are coming from” demonstrate that you have been listening to the other person and respect their opinions.

7. Open-Mindedness

A good communicator should enter any conversation with a flexible, open mind.

Be open to listening to and understanding the other person’s point of view, rather than simply getting your message across.

By being willing to enter into a dialogue, even with people with whom you disagree, you will be able to have more honest, productive conversations.

8. Respect

People will be more open to communicating with you if you convey respect for them and their ideas. Simple actions like using a person’s name, making eye contact, and actively listening when a person speaks will make the person feel appreciated.

Convey respect through email by taking the time to edit your message. If you send a sloppily written, confusing email, the recipient will think you do not respect her enough to think through your communication with her.

9. Feedback

Being able to appropriately give and receive feedback is an important communication skill.

Managers and supervisors should continuously look for ways to provide employees with constructive feedback, be it through email, Skype calls, or weekly status updates.

Similarly, you should be able to accept, and even encourage, feedback from others. Listen to the feedback you are given, ask clarifying questions if you are unsure of the issue, and make efforts to implement the feedback.

10. Picking the Right Medium

An important communication skill is to simply know what form of communication tool to use.

For example, some serious conversations are almost always best done in a more personal medium such as face-to-face interactions via Skype.

You should also think about the person with whom you wish to speak – if they are very busy people (such as your boss, perhaps), you might want to convey your message through email.

People will appreciate your thoughtful means of communication, and will be more likely to respond positively to you.

11. Responsiveness

When your coworkers or employers reach out to you, make sure you let them know you got the message.

A simple sentence is enough:

This is noted. I’ll get back to you on this ASAP.

This is very important in cases when people work in different time zones. There is no way for your coworkers to know if you have read or understood the message.

Your employers need to know if you got the task and if you are working on it. Let them know!

Remember: They cannot see you!

So, being responsive means letting everybody know that you are present, working and that you are up to date with everything that is happening on your projects.

12. Clarification

There you are, sitting in front of your computer, staring at your screen, reading the instructions and still having NO idea, whatsoever, what you should be doing.

Firstly, take a deep breath and try to pinpoint the details that confuse you and prevent you from commencing your work. For example,

How do I make coffee?

Is too general. It requires from your employer to give you detailed instructions one more time and they already did that. But

Do you pour boiling or warm water over coffee?

Asks for a specific information and works much better.

After that, make a numbered list of precise questions that you need answers to. Numbered lists will help you avoid misunderstandings and get direct and clear answers you need.

Make clear that you have tried to complete the task, read through the instructions carefully and only then asked for clarifications. It shows your employer that you have put the effort into understanding the task you are given.

In Summary

In order to communicate these issues and others properly, you also need to be aware of the different online communication etiquette to ensure that your conversation goes well and professionally.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. You can express confidence by the way you speak if you…

a. Avoid making statements that sound like questions

b. Speak very loudly

c. Laugh and make jokes as much as possible

2. What are the signs of respect in written communication?

a. It’s enough that you don’t use swear words

b. Carefully composed emails that are free from mistakes and typos

c. Nothing in particular, as long as you respond to all your emails

3. Should you confirm that you got your task or email?

a. No. If they sent it, they know you got it

b. No. You don’t want to be boring

c. Yes. A simple line notifying your employer that you got the message is enough

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