Communication in Virtual Teams: Understanding individual differences
- Heightened stress levels and uncertainty in the current context can impact the quality of our communication in the workplace, in terms of how we transmit, receive and perceive messages from others.
- Remote working brings with itself many challenges for effective communication.
- By understanding individual differences – people’s typical and preferred ways of thinking and behaving – leaders can put in place proactive strategies that enhance quality communication, leading to greater productivity and team morale.
- Armed with greater knowledge of how staff tick, leaders can also identify those who may be struggling.
What you can do as a leader?
- Start reflecting on your own preferences in communication and how this impacts your team – self awareness
- Have an open and frank team discussion about differences in team members’ communication styles. By raising this awareness, we can better predict people’s behaviour and less misunderstandings may occur. TIP: If your team has completed personality or team-profile questionnaires in the past, bring out the profiles to frame your discussion. ASK:
- What are their preferences or typical styles? For example, do you have team members that are more naturally direct, like to discuss and work in the detail, are persuasive, optimistic, are people orientated versus task orientated, are extraverted or introverted – do they get a buzz being around others?
- How do they like to be communicated with? Personality as well as people’s skills and experience, impacts on what communication medium we prefer (e.g., email, face-to-face etc). Discuss with your team the strengths and limitations of different modes, what people’s comfort levels are with each, and come up with a communication plan.
- How can we harness our strengths and communicate effectively for everyone? For example, perhaps you can set up a buddy system where someone low in optimism is paired with someone with high optimism – in order to get a balanced (positive and realistic) view of a problem. TIP: Remember that when we talk about personality, that it is tendencies or preferences of behaviour, and nothing is “good” or “bad”. Different communication styles may have different strengths and limitations, depending on context.
- Adjust your communication style to suit individuals. For example, someone who is typically more extraverted or people-centric, may need to have more frequent and informal one-on-one catch ups not solely focused on the task.
- Remain situationally aware – keep on the lookout for changes in behaviour. Is their communication style different from usual? Are they more abrupt than usual…quieter… ? If their behaviour significantly varies from their normal or is more extreme, have a conversation with them. They may need additional support.
- Don’t forget to reflect on how communication is going in the team – continuously ask your team how you can support them and how they can support each other alongside the work tasks and responsibilities we are trying to achieve.
Managing Virtual Teams: Ten Tips
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