Online communication

By Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

One of the foundations of being a remote leader is effective online communication. As we’ve well documented on this site and in The Long-Distance Leader, this is one of the principle leadership challenges for those heading up remote teams.

Simply put, communicating remotely just isn’t the same as communicating in co-located office settings. Much of the richness that comes with face-to-face communication is missing. That often makes interpreting messages more complex than when we’re sitting across a table from each other. Without the context of non-verbal communication and even voice tone, messages sent via e-mail or chat sometimes lack the clarity we’re after.

Communication is about more than the message

But getting the message across is only half the battle when it comes to online communication. Communication is also about building relationships. When we send e-mails or notes in Slack, there’s more than just an exchange of information and data going on. There’s an interaction between human beings that will impact the way they think about each other, and ultimately how they work together.

We can have all our “I’s” dotted and “T’s” crossed, our grammar and punctuation proofread, and be totally accurate with our facts and figures, but if we neglect the relational component of communication, we’re only doing half the job.

Using the DISC Model as a Template for Effective Online Communication

The DISC Model is one of the most useful tools for understanding how people communicate. To understand it fully, you can read more at our DISC site, but it essentially breaks down communication styles into four quadrants: Dominant, Cautious, Inspiring and Supportive.

Those four styles describe the basic needs we all have when we communicate with each other. And while we can have different styles in different situations, by and large we each have a dominant style that we prefer.

These four styles can be further broken down into two main groups: Those who are more task-oriented in their communication and those who are more relational. You may already be ahead of me in recognizing the main challenge for remote teams: the nature of online communication tends to reward the task-oriented people while depriving the relational people of necessary input.

Getting Beyond the Information Exchange

When we work together remotely, it’s easy to get lulled into the “just get the job done” frame of mind. That gets reflected in our communication. We think we’re doing a great job when we’re providing all the relevant information and not wasting the time of our colleagues with stuff that’s unrelated to the success of the project.

The folks in the “D” and “C” quadrants will probably love that. They’re much more receptive to “bottom line” messages that answer the questions “What” and “Why.” But if you’re communicating with the relationally focused people in the “I” or “S” quadrants, they’re going to see that same interaction as cold and lacking engagement. The data is important to them too, but they also want to talk about the excitement of the achievement and enjoy your virtual company. They’re more likely to go out of their way to express their appreciation and expect that in return.

Managing the Different Styles

So as you can probably see, even in a co-located setting that enjoys more “richness” in communication, meeting the needs of all these different styles doesn’t happen by chance. For each of us our default setting is to communicate in our own style. That can be the cause of unnecessary confusion and conflict, especially with remote teams.

As a Long-Distance Leader, it’s your responsibility to coach your team toward more effective online communication. That can mean using the proper tools and communicating the right information to the right people, but it also means encouraging the focus on relationships. When your team becomes aware of their own communication needs and biases as well as those of their teammates, you’ll find they work together more productively and effectively.

You can get started by taking your own DISC assessment for free. You can also learn more about DISC and take advantage of all the other features, including a detailed team assessment that can be the springboard for improving your team’s online communication.

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