Collaborating Virtually at Work and School

Working or learning virtually can be a challenge especially if reading social cues and managing your communication is a challenge.  We have the technology to create and support virtual teams, but collaborating remotely requires special skills.

These tips can help build social and communication skills in a virtual setting: 

  1. Consider who is Your Audience- Think about what you know about the people in each meeting or interactions, what motivates them? What is their history with you? What are their past choices and what does that tell you about how they will react to a situation? Then if need be, pause as you adapt your communication to the audience and consider the situation and their personality.
  2. Use Video Conferencing to Watch for Social Cues- Whenever possible, use a visual medium so you can see the other person’s nonverbal signals and interpret how they feel. Reading body language and facial expressions will help you gauge how to react to the other person, identify how they are feeling and tailor your communications more effectively. Body Language can change the meaning of a simple phrase, so watch the speaker for head nods (agreement), crossed arms (defensiveness), smirking (can mean they agree and are amused or disagree and are nodding politely), and a sigh (frustration).
  3. Read the energy of the other person- Energy tells you so much about another person’s mood. People’s voice, what they say, their body language can alert you to their energy. Consider the energy of the person you are speaking to and ask yourself what does this tell you about their mood? What does that mean about your conversation and how can you adapt your approach to match their energy? The pace of the person’s language can tell you so much about their energy.
  4. Pay Attention to Context- Context is the situation, the environment, the mood, the circumstances and what has been going on. Interpreting the context can help you adjust your message to the audience you are speaking to​ and to remember their thoughts and feelings and how that impacts the conversation.
  5. Read Between the Lines- As you communicate with co-workers and friends from a distance, the way something is said can change the meaning so it is important to read between the lines. Drawn out words change the meaning of a sentence, for instance, a stress on the adjective i.e., “that is SOO nice”, changes the meaning from positive to a negative, snarky comment. Intense verb adjectives and adverbs, such love, hate, and always can be signs of sarcasm.  Reading between the lines can help translate what the person means, allowing you to make a choice on how to respond.

Change can be overwhelming. Rather than worrying about everything at once, a good approach is to pick one mission, one thing to work on and then to focus on that goal.  What you focus on will grow and develop and will help you manage your social relationships virtually.

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