“Hello? Are you still there?”

Have you asked or been asked that recently? If so, you’re not alone. The question is always followed by an awkward, silent pause, as reality sets in for both parties. There’s the distracted listener who doesn’t know what you said last, and the talker who realizes they haven’t paused or taken a breath in quite a while.

As a professional who has managed and worked in teams remotely, I’ve learned that there are proven practices that can enrich your virtual conversations and improve your overall interpersonal communication skills. These tips originate from the common premise that, as humans, we want to feel listened to, heard, and validated.

Here are FIVE TIPS that can help you set the right tone and make a positive impact:

1. Clear your mind and be present.

Before joining or initiating a call, make sure you’re in the right mindset. This means letting go of the many thoughts or distractions in your head and your environmental background. Recognize that your voice and tone carry an energetic vibe. Set the intention to be an active listener and take a few extra seconds to breathe before engaging. Be open, honest, and transparent if you’re feeling off, especially if someone cannot see your face or body expressions through a computer camera.

2. Refrain from multitasking.

Remove distractions from your desk and close down your email. People can hear you typing, texting, or instant messaging. It’s rude unless it’s part of the discussion to get immediate answers. If you must multitask, at least mute yourself. If you’re the host, set the context and remind people of the purpose of the call. Share how you’ll facilitate to make sure everyone’s voice will be heard and encourage everyone to be engaged.

3. Pause frequently.

When you’re talking over the phone or through the computer, it’s hard to hear when another person wants to ask a question or add something. By taking intentional, frequent pauses, you enable a more natural interaction to occur. If you’re just talking and talking, you will not be able to hear the other person or allow them to interject.

4. Be responsive and ask questions.

Voice cues become important when listening. Acknowledge what you’re hearing and ask follow-up questions as appropriate to keep the dialogue going. If you’re hosting, build in time for people to ask you questions and validate any areas where people may feel uncertain.

5. Increase feedback.

Over the phone or through the computer, it’s hard to tell if you have been heard accurately. Ask for feedback during the session and reference that you’ll be sending a follow-up email documenting any actions taken. In your follow-up email, be clear, concise, and considerate. You want to communicate all key points and leave little to no room for doubts or confusion.

Take It A Step Further

Understanding your preferences and those of people around you can improve team dynamics and reduce conflict. Learn more here.

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