When I started to manage global teams, it became apparent to me that people everywhere were generally bad communicators. People tend to talk, not listen, and with the loss of visual cues, multiple native languages, and different writing styles, I saw a recipe for significant misunderstandings. On a project, especially an agile one, misunderstandings can cost time and money.
Virtual environments of communications, (email, text, and phone, to name a few) pose a higher risk of miscommunication because they lack the ‘visual components’ that we find in face to face communications. This poses both challenges and opportunities for us as Project Leaders (“Social Networking, The “Third Place,” and The Evolution of Communications,” 2007). The challenge comes because we lose body cues that help us understand whether the other person is listening, or mulling over our questions, or getting ready to answer. We are not necessarily sure that our communication has been received as intended. On the other hand, we have the opportunity to incorporate new modes of contact into our virtual communications that can provide us with enhanced team collaboration, knowledge sharing, and understanding. (“Six Sigma Team Dynamics, Roles, and Success Factors,” Skillsoft, 2017)
I put this list together after decades of successful virtual management of worldwide teams to maximize project communications and minimize misunderstandings.
1. Be Brief: Use as few words as possible. Utilize the technology medium (email, twitter, instant message), that will convey your message without extra fluff.
“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” (translation: “I have made this [letter] longer than usual, only because I have not the time to make it shorter.”) – Blaise Pascal
2. Choose Your Medium Wisely: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” – Martin Lomasney
3. Pick Up The Phone or Skype: If a text or instant message dialog goes for more than 5 minutes (5 texts back and forth), it is best to pick up the phone or Skype and talk to the person.
4. Practice Good Emailing:
- Less is more. (See Rule #1 & #5)
- Try to make it fit on 1 screen.
- Be clear about your point and organize using bullets and headings.
- Write using good grammar.
- Avoid attachments.
- AVOID ALL CAPs, emojis, text-messaging language and colored type.
- Proofread each sentence.
- Don’t send something you would not want the world to see.
5. Choose the 1 Question you want to be answered: If you send a note with several questions in it, typically, only one question will get answered. Often, it is the last one. Occasionally, it is the first one. But usually, it is the most interesting one. Why not decide instead of leaving it up to fate?
Miscommunication poses an unnecessary risk and cost to any project. In a future post, I will talk more about successful global team communications and communication plans. Following some simple virtual rules can make all the difference in being understood.