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Making the virtual as good as real
SUDDENLY we all have to work virtually. Where we used to have a meeting or a lunch, with time to weigh up the mood of whoever we were dealing with, now we must operate cold.
Or must we? Certainly not. You can make virtual communications quite as good as face-to- face (f2f) ones. In fact, at Terrific Mentors International we have been conducting over 75 per cent of our mentoring/coaching work online for several years. What have we learnt about how to handle a client virtually?
First, most people prefer video to simple telephone. They are right to do so. Telephone by itself deprives you of all body language. That puts you at a disadvantage. Even if you know your correspondent well, to be without their current, changing mood makes your pacing of the conversation difficult.
Simple telephone is possible, of course. We've been doing that for years. But why waste the added resource of vision when it can be so much more helpful?
Second, set the scene properly. When video communicating, most people just sit in front of the camera and talk. Make sure you and your correspondent get your distances from the camera right. See that both of you are not just faces in camera lenses.
Sit far enough from the camera for the other person to be able to see your arms and shoulders. They are an important part of your body language. You will probably have a miniature picture of yourself in the corner of your screen. Use it to see what you look like. You want to look your best.
Third, give your client and yourself time. Tactfully setting the scene will help you to have some informal chatter with the other person or people. Extend the time to 10-15 fifteen minutes of gossip per person.
You can't do that on a conference call, but you can when only one or two people are on the other end. Talk about what's going on in the world. Ask questions which will help you judge the frame of mind/mood of the other person.
Communication is best when we can form a good idea about where the other person is coming from. Remember, they will be at home, like you. That means children, dogs, meal preparation and putting the garbage out.
Don't worry if your surroundings are less spick and span than your office. As long as you are well lit and comfortable it will work. Have a cup of coffee or equivalent by you and take a sip from time to time. It's what you do in a meeting.
Fourth, have a good, clear agenda and stick to it. Virtual meetings can be as informal as f2f meetings but they require more agenda discipline. That means one of you has to be in charge of the meeting. You want that person to be you.
You will, in effect, chair the meeting. Paradoxically, it is easier to play the dominant role in a virtual meeting then when f2f. For a mentor and coach that means they have to be especially careful to ask, not to tell. The same applies to senior people when they are dealing with subordinates.
Fifth, indicate when you want to speak. Put your hand up or make some other very visible sign. It's easy enough for one person to run on and on in a f2f meeting, easier still in a virtual one.
If someone else is doing that and you want to speak make it clear that you think their time is up or their argument specious.
Sixth, encourage the other person to debate with you. At first, virtual meetings can seem rather "tell and hear". They shouldn't be. A good, feisty discussion is perfectly possible, but just as the agenda discipline must be excellent so must the "speaking time" discipline.
Hosts of TV chat shows quickly learn that anyone who speaks for more than two minutes threatens the life of the discussion. You are not running a chat show but similar rules apply even to the most formal talk.
Seventh, remember your manners. You are an emotionally intelligent person. That means that you are aware of the value of good relationships, now and in the future.
You may soon be applying for a job to one of the people you are dealing with, or even commanding, today.
Say the right "thank you's", don't oppose too aggressively and end on a good note. KYC (know your customer) doesn't only apply to banking, it applies to all relationships. Make it clear that you understand that.
Making your virtual dealings more successful is easy if you apply these simple rules. You will quickly discover that probably a great deal more of your work can be done efficiently and quickly online. Doing so saves you time and money.
And there's always after work to get together, when we can again.
Let's hope that is soon.
- John Bittleston is the founder-mentor of Terrific Mentors International.