Bringing the human back to Digital Communication
Written by Ashalia Maharajh
Like a good relationship, all good businesses thrive on strong communication. Any successful business person will tell you that’s because the foundation of business is relationships – with your employees, partners, and vendors, and most importantly with your customers.
Building these relationships through strong, clear communication is what differentiates a business that thrives from a business that fails. In 2020 there are more tools to facilitate communication than ever before and improved market research continues to provide insight into new strategies that really work.
Communcating digitally can be challenging. When we are sending emails, between homeschooling the kids, making lunch and sanitizing our sanitisers – tone may be lost, we forget that we are communicating to another human and connection and communication may suffer. Never before have we used this much tech, we have video calls, voice notes, emails, text, what’s app groups, social media, videos, presentations – and whilst tech is great for sharing information, thoughts and ideas – we must ensure we are truly communicating and not just sending information back and forth.
Many young people especially, whilst well versed in technology - struggle with professional communication. They need even more support and guidance through this time as they do not have someone to ask those day to day questions to, they may feel daunted, afraid or not want to appear unknowing so they continue as they are and lose those valuable learning moments.
Here are our top 5 tips on how you can keep your people and business thriving in communicating with technology.
“ I love the irony of technology allowing us to make internal communications more human. And that really, in my mind, is one of the primary goals of internal communications, to connect human beings and unite them in being part of something larger.” - Elizabeth Baskin CEO at Tribe, Inc.
1. Its all Personal
Personality has a lot to do with the way we communicate. People usually communicate according to their personality style. Most of the time in a professional setting, we communicate using professional protocol.
However, in times of stress, people tend to become more defensive and this shows up in our communication. In the current time we are facing, we are under prolonged stress. So perhaps there isn’t anything directly causing it this week, but you will see the effects manifest in your teams in their communication.
If you have ever used Insights or a similar personality profiling assessment before, you will know the that Reds may go into defend mode whilst greens may become quiet and not want to engage. At this time, let us use our empathy to ask how others are doing and truly listen. Over email this can be tough as you cannot give a friendly smile or make eye contact to read the person easily. You can check in to see how the person is – truly check in. Hear their response, no need to fix the situation or offer advice – just listen. That’s the power in listening, it ‘holds space’ for the person, giving them a safe space to speak to share their feelings or thoughts (no matter what they are). This creates a strong sense of genuine trust with the individual and moves from a human centred connection as opposed to a purely transactional one.
Don't forget about yourself
Remember this goes for you too. So when you are feeling the pains of stress - you can communicate it. Share your communication style with others so that they understand your position a bit better. Your interns or learners may not always know how to approach you when you are busy meeting deadlines and seemingly unavailable to them, so be sure to communicate how they may best get in touch with you and provide them with clear guidelines. They will appreciate this!
The older staff need support too. Your operational managers are likely older and are dealing with a host of their own personal stress as well as managing others remotely. Our research shows that most young managers will not speak up to share their areas of development to their seniors or HR readily, as they are fearful of jeopardising their perceived positions of authority. Kindly, equip them with the tools they need to communicate effectively. You will be surprised at the difference it makes in connection and performance. You can do this through courses, videos, articles or gentle sharing of knowledge (copy and past points from this article if you need to) - but whatever you do, over communicate these tools rather than assuming they already are comfortable in this area.
Smile over video calls (or even voice calls for that matter). It can be tempting to speak or look away from the camera. What this does, is signal to the brain that the person is not fully engaged. We are social beings after all and respond to others in this way. Look at the camera or lens and smile every now and then to show that you are engaged with those on the call. By smiling and looking at the lens wherever you can, you create a positive connection.
According to Neuro Nation: “Each time you smile your brain feels really happy. Smiling activates the release of feel-good-messengers that work towards fighting stress. These messengers help you experience a whole range of emotions, from happiness to sadness, anger to depression. When a smile flashes across your face; dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released into your bloodstream, making not only your body relax but also work to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Endorphins are natural painkillers – 100% naturally produced by your own body, without the negative effects of medication. When you smile, people treat you differently. You’re seen as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. Scientists found that seeing an attractive smiling face activates your orbitofrontal cortex, the region in your brain processing sensory rewards. This suggests that when you view a person smiling, you actually feel that you’re being rewarded.”
3. Be inclusive
On team/group video calls be sure to check for understanding. Introverted types, (earth greens or cool blues) may get lost in the conversation a bit and may not speak up. Gently check in with them individually, “Nandi, do you have anything to add?” or “Jon, haven’t heard from you, any thoughts?” It is a good way to help them feel included and provide them with space to share. At the end of a meeting, you can do general check ins with each, so go name by name - this helps everyone feel included and heard if they have a burning question or thought. For larger groups this may prove difficult for some of your managers or yourself, so you can always advise that all questions are welcomed via text or email - the trick to this thought for a power communication move is respond timorously to these so that you encourage this positive form of communication.
4. Zoom fatigue is NOT your personality type
Zoom fatigue is real, you know it. Feeling so drained by talking to the screen all day. Use your time wisely, in shorter meetings - you want to keep it short, impactful and respectful of everyone’s time. So you can preface the call by framing the context, “Hey everyone, we have 30 minutes to cover the agenda points, in the interest of time may I ask that we all cover our feedback as succinctly as possible."
Remember that some calls are going to be transactional, so contextualising the call allows people to understand that there will be less social engagement in this particular call and more direct discussions. They know that this is a purely transactional call and clearly understand the expectation.
Keep it short
Whilst this may seem counter intuitive to connecting, remember that we are all balancing this magical blend of professional and personal so most will want in and out of meetings - so they can tend to their little sister's lunch or their son's request to go the bathroom. So when kicking off a meeting with a larger group, it can be tempting to hear how each and every person is doing personally. However this may continue on for 30 minutes, and over sharing can drain the meeting of its agenda and actually make the people feel “unheard”. Therefore, for these larger meetings, it is best to hold the discussion to the agenda points and ensure time is respected for all involved. If you are noticing that Sharon is talking about her puppy more than the project, respectfully bring the focus back and direct the focus – everyone will be very grateful for that! Remember you can always ask Sharon about her adorable poodle in your next one on one with her :)
Don't look at yourself
If you are stuck in back to back calls, turn off your self view. Humans are not wired to look at themselves whilst speaking. This burdens your brain with a host of thoughts you just do not need, “Does my hair look good?”, “Is my background tidy?” “Can they see my pyjamas?”. Focus on looking at the person when they are speaking or at the lens, to really let go of your concerns. Remember they have them too. If you are concerned about your appearance, because of course you need to present yourself well - keep a small mirror near by or use your phone camera to do a quick check.
Don’t be afraid to stand up whilst on a call, this will get your blood flowing and feel a bit more energetic. I use this method when I am swamped with afternoon calls. It helps the person hear that I am engaged and enthusiastic about the discussion, and not feeling the weight of back to back zoom calls
5. Explore other options
Because we’ve been told that working from is going to require us to maintain social engagement, video calls become the go-to method of communication now that we are away from the office. But, there are other options… Yes, I’m talking about our lovely old friends: email, text and good old voice phone calls. Remember them? These channels of communication may just save you (and your tired eyes) from hours of screen time, and the harmful effects Zoom fatigue can have on your connection to others.
If you can substitute a zoom call with an email, compile the information and send it off. If you absolutely must have a discussion with your team, schedule a conference call that won’t force your co-workers to crack open their laptops and scramble to look professional.
Context is key
Remember it is all about how you contexualise the conversation, allow your personality to come through even in an email or text. “Hey everyone, I thought I would save us all from my bed head this morning and send you this quick email with a list of action points after chatting with the client. See below…”
The idea here is to balance out the communications methods and to communicate your choices. “Hi team, today I am available on email or What’s App only. ”. This provides context and understanding for those that are used to you popping on to a video call usually, to indicate a boundary for yourself. It also encourages others to do the same, growing trust and positive communication.
In all that you do, know that you are human and doing your best. Have empathy and understanding for everyone (including yourself). Communication is the key in getting through this and helping us connect to each other authentically. Providing your people with the tools they need not only help them communicate effectively with each other and support them.