12 Virtual Communication Mistakes that Can Make You Look Awful

August 20, 2022 | By | 2 Replies More

Boy communicating by screaming loudly into a microphone to represent bad virtual communication methods.

Virtual communication mistakes can be costly. And many times, we have no idea we’re making them. Photo courtesy of Jason Rosewell

(Updated 8-20-22)

 

With a few simple preventative measures we can avoid many communication snafus that affect our professional relationships.

 

Even before the onset of COVID-19, 70% of the global workforce was already working from home at least one day a week. Virtual communication is already familiar to us; but now remote work is becoming the norm, one that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. Going forward, more of our interactions will be entirely virtual, which means mastering virtual communication etiquette and learning how to avoid communication mistakes should be at the top of our list.

 

Of course, even the most courteous and conscientious of us will make mistakes from time to time. But with a few simple preventative measures we can ward off many communication snafus that affect our relationships with colleagues or clients.

 

“We need to learn a new set of rules—like learning to communicate in a new language.  The virtual pushes us to invest in multiple different worlds, often simultaneously. These new worlds come with new, vague codes of conduct and create new needs…The digital world forces us to re-wire our unconscious communication habits for conscious success.”

-Nick Morgan, Public Words

 

 

Top virtual communication mistakes

Below are some of the most common communication blunders made in virtual communication. As more of the workforce becomes–and remains– remote, be aware of these errors and how to prevent them.

 

  1. Talking on the phone in public places or while in transit

  2. Trying to multitask

  3. Conversing on speakerphone

  4. Not being aware of team members’ time zones

  5. Being unaware of, or indifferent to, diversity in cultures or religions

  6. Not considering others’ communication comfort zones

  7. Being unprepared for phone or video meetings

  8. Failing to prevent disruptions

  9. Writing chain letters

  10. Impulsively sending texts or emails

  11. Ignoring common sense

  12. Assuming readers know how you feel

 

 

Communication Mistake: Talking on the phone in public places or while in transit

Have you ever tried to have a phone conversation with someone while they were near a passing train, an airport, or siren rushing by them? How painful on your ears! Or, they were traveling and their connection faded in and out, giving you only half of each sentence? How annoying.

 

talking on phone in loud area

Courtesy: Daniel Nieto
If you’re in a public place or in transit, avoid making calls until you’ve reached a quiet place.

 

If you’re in a public place or in transit, avoid making calls until you’ve reached a still, quiet place. The person on the other end will appreciate a clear conversation, and you’ll also be less distracted.

 

 

Communication Mistake: Trying to multitask

If you’re on the phone with someone and you begin to hear clicking from their mouse or keyboard, what does that tell you? It could mean they aren’t interested in talking to you. Or you’ve interrupted their work. Who knows! At best, it suggests you aren’t a priority at that moment.

 

And, because they’re multi-tasking, they can’t fully concentrate on what you’re saying or their task. They ask things like, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Or you hear them sigh or curse under their breath because they messed up their work because you distracted them.

 

If you’re busy when a call comes in, it’s best to stop what you are doing. Or else, simply ask them to give you five minutes (or half an hour) to finish up. Then you can give them your full attention. Problem solved.

 

“[People] may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Carl W. Buehner

 

 

 

Communication Mistake: Talking on speakerphone

Talking on a speakerphone has the tendency to make someone sound like they’re in a tunnel. It also makes the other person feel uncomfortable because the call is less private.

 

Also, similar to Multitasking, using the speaker implies there is something else you want to do, or you’re already in the middle of something but don’t want to stop. (I.e. “I’m busy and you’re not important enough for me to focus solely on you!”)

 

Unless you’re driving, use your phone in regular mode. If you do have to use the speaker, at least remember to immediately inform the other person. (It took one of my daughters a while to “get” this. Still, any time one of us calls I feel the need to ask if I am on speaker. Very impolite!)

 

 

Communication Mistake: Being unaware of team members’ time zones

Back in my college days I was fundraising for a non-profit organization and needed to confirm the attendees for an event. I knew that one particular sponsor was in Greece for the week, yet without thinking I called to confirm his attendance. Upon hearing my reason for calling, he sighed and briefly went silent.  Then, he brusquely asked me why I was calling at 11:00pm for such a reason, and he hung up.

 

“The fastest way to alienate [people] is to treat one-time zone as being correct for everyone,” writes Ellie Coverdale for Zangi.com. There is no “correct” time zone. So, whether your team are spread across the globe or just across the country, we must consider time differences before picking up the phone.

 

 

Two handy websites for checking the time in other locations are TMZNs.com and WorldTimeBuddy. I wish these were available before I called Greece! (Then again, the internet wasn’t around, either.)

 

 

Communication Mistake: Being unaware of, or insensitive to, cultural and/or religious differences

One benefit of virtual communication is that it allows companies to source talent from around the world. This also helps companies respond to the pressing need for cultural diversification. But it’s not just in countries other than our own where we find different cultures. Every country has diversity that must be respected and taken into consideration before we reach out to communicate with someone.

 

Therefore, not only should we be aware of others’ time zones, but we have to remember that not everyone thinks, believes, or lives the way we do, either.

 

For example, if a coworker or client is Jewish, regardless of which country they live in, we can’t expect them to do anything work related after sundown their time on Friday through sundown their time on Saturday. That entire 24-hour period (their time!) is the Sabbath, a sacred to them.

 

Globes representing global workforce and diversification

Courtesy: João Silas
As a global workforce we must be aware of others’ cultural and religious beliefs.

 

This applies to holidays/holy days of everyone within our workplace. We need to educate ourselves–not expect others to educate us–about various cultures to ensure we are respecting our colleagues’ cultures and beliefs. We would expect the same from them.

 

 

Communication Mistake: Not considering others’ communication comfort zones

The mere suggestion of being in a video meeting makes me cringe. I hate video chatting. I don’t like Zoom-ing, or anything that uses cameras. In fact, many women and Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans, who know they may be subjected to judgement about their appearance or surroundings, feel this way. Video meetings can also exacerbate the inequalities that are already common during company meetings, as explained by Jo Yurkaba for The Muse:

 

“During in-person meetings, women and people of color are more likely to be interrupted, for example, and being on video doesn’t stop that.

 

Video meetings can also exacerbate the inequalities that exist in physical workplaces and even introduce new challenges. For example, you can’t read body language or facial expressions as easily, so it’s more difficult to tell if someone is uncomfortable or disagrees with you. In large video meetings, it can be extra hard to signal that you have something to say without interrupting someone, which could make it harder for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, or introverts to be heard. During the pandemic, people are at home with their children and other family members, which can lead to other distractions or barriers to participating. And on top of all that, being on video calls is also more physically draining, which can make it even harder to feel like you have a chance to contribute.”   The Muse *

 

* Journalist Jo Yurkaba wrote an excellent piece for The Muse on ways to bring equity into meetings in general, and video meetings specifically. Please read!

 

We shouldn’t presume that what’s a comfortable communication method for us works well for someone else.

 

Of course, often we don’t have a choice. So when working remotely, practice and prepare to use any virtual communication method necessary. Each has its pros and cons. When working with a client or a colleague, sometimes we need to accommodate them. (I’m working on my video communication issues.) If you’re a manager, try to consider staff members’ comfort zones, and not just what’s most efficient, when selecting a mode of communication.

 

 

 

Communication Mistake: Being unprepared for a phone or video meeting

Whether your phone or video meeting is one-on-one, or a conference call or video with several people, just one person being unprepared can bring things to a dead halt. The could-you-hold-on-a-minute-while-I-grab-this-or-that? will send eyes rolling, at best. At worst, it throws off the entire agenda.

 

Prior to every meeting gather anything necessary in advance, and get yourself organized. Check and recheck everything, ensuring your tech is working, that relevant websites are open and files are  accessible, and even an extra (working!) pen is in reach.

 

Showing up to a meeting prepared will boost your confidence, too, as you’ll feel unstressed and able to focus on what others are saying and what needs to be accomplished. It will help others feel focused as well, making the meeting more productive.

 

 

Communication Mistake: Failing to prevent disruptions

Who can ever forget the interview of Professor Robert Kelly with BBC News about North Korea? The video of that interview went viral not just because it was a hilarious TV blooper, but because millions of work from home parents could relate so well. (I certainly felt his pain, which is why my now-grown kids were so excited to share this with me!)

 

Professor Robert Kelly being interviewed by BBC News is interrupted by his children.

 

Most of us who empathize with Dr. Kelly won’t ever be on live television. Still, how many of us have tried to complete a business call with children playing (or arguing!) in the next room? As parents, we know that even a closed door doesn’t guarantee success.

 

When you work from home and have young children, leave nothing to chance. If at all possible, schedule calls for times they will be out of the house or are usually sound asleep. As the video proved: even a spouse, such as Mrs. Kelly above, watching them in another room is no guarantee you will work undisturbed!

 

Likewise, your pooch blissfully napping in your office under the warm rays of sun by the window is a risk you can’t ignore. The instant another dog passes by, your quiet conversation is over. Plan ahead by confining pets some distance from where you need to make a call. (Just remember to give them a treat when you’ve finished.)

 

 

Communication Mistake: Sending chain letters

No, no, I don’t mean those old fashioned chain letters that were once so popular. I’m talking about an email that starts with one subject, but gets reused repeatedly even as its contents change. Somehow, it just seems easier to keep hitting REPLY, instead of starting a new email with a new subject. Please, don’t do that!

 

For example, you send a customer an email about their account. In that same email, you politely ask about their vacation, or you try to upsell something. Thirty REPLYs later you’re talking about hockey, but the subject line still reads, “Important information regarding your account.”

 

This not only becomes confusing, but it creates more work for the reader who may want to refer back to something in your email later. They’ll have to scroll through ump-teen irrelevant messages to find that one comment they need.

 

 

Mixed stack of mail representing numerous email topics

Courtesy: Roman Koval
To avoid confusion, every new topic needs its own email.

 

Every new topic needs its own email. If you want to chat about your client’s kids, use another email with a new subject. Yes, this creates more email; but, because they have different subjects your reader can decide when to read them. And you don’t lose your original purpose of contacting him or her, which was to ask about their account.

 

 

Communication Mistake: Responding too quickly to texts or email

Sometimes, whipping up a retort to someone who has angered us can make us feel pretty darn clever. Unfortunately, the glee that’s felt after clicking SEND is pretty short lived, isn’t it? What’s not short lived is the evidence proving poor impulse control on our part.  Evidence which lasts as long as the reader wants to keep the message.

 

However, you don’t have to be angry to send a message you’ll regret. That’s why waiting until you’re in a clear frame of mind to reply to anyone is the best policy. Do you feel irritated? Wait. Are your feelings hurt? Wait. Are you over tired? Wait. You will thank yourself. (Let’s just say I know what I’m talking about here!)

 

 

Communication Mistake: Failing to use good ol’ common sense

Some friends of mine went out one evening, but I couldn’t join them. They group messaged later on to say they missed me. I didn’t see their message until I woke up the next morning, around 4 am. Touched, I immediately sent off a  group response thanking them.

 

Midway through a sip of my coffee, I froze. Did I just ping their phones at 4am? Yep, I sure did. Being half asleep, I had failed to use common sense. I might have inadvertently awakened three blissfully sleeping ladies. Imagine if that was a message to a distributed team in several time zones, who received my response in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn their time?

 

 


via GIPHY
 

One way to avoid this type of mistake is to use schedulers with your work messages and email. If you have a compelling thought at 3am that you want your team to get once they’re at work, you can write the message and then simply schedule it to send later.

 

To schedule text messages from an iPhone, this article offers instructions on setting up scheduled texts. For Android, check out this article. Or, use a push option, like an iPhone. For email, there are numerous reminder apps that let you write your messages, save it, and give you a push notification at the time you want to hit send.

 

Higher up the technical evolutionary ladder, Google has a great feature for scheduling email. (I’m sure other email platforms do, too.)  CNet.com wrote clear Gmail scheduling instructions.  For Outlook users, this new article should help.

 

 

Communication Mistake: Assuming readers know how you feel, or not knowing how you can be interpreted

Are you aware of how others interpret your tone in a text or email?

 

I’m told that I sometimes “sound” curt or abrupt in my correspondences. I have to agree. I tend to say what I have to say, without fluff or niceties.  Regardless of the positive feelings I have toward a recipient, or even positive intention in the email, I like to get my point across quickly. Unfortunately, this means that sometimes I fail to consider that people can’t read my mood or feelings that aren’t expressed in the wording in my email.

 

 

“People on the receiving end of written communication tend to interpret it more negatively than intended by the sender. Emotions are expressed and received mostly through nonverbal cues, which are largely missing from text-based communication,” write Professors N. Sharon Hill and Kathryn M. Bartol for MITSloan Management Review. [Emphasis mine]

 

That’s why it’s important to purposefully convey goodwill and warmth in virtual communication, especially when it’s written.

 

An exercise I’ve used to help me exude more warmth in my written communication is to imagine I’m calling the person on the telephone instead of writing them. No matter how important I feel my information is, I would never just jump to the point of my call the second they answer the phone. At the very least, I would ask the person how they were doing. Wouldn’t you?

 

When it comes to business correspondence, too often women, in particular, connect abruptness with professionalism (we’re afraid of being seen as “wishy-washy” or “emotional”), and this actually hurts communication. Why? Because communication really all boils down to one thing: people. Soft skills are more than just niceties. They help open hearts and minds, making your reader more receptive because you’re making a personal connection with them.

 

 

Wrapping it up

Virtual communication has come a long way in the past three decades. We no longer can think it of as an optional form of communication; many times it’s our only feasible method of communication.

 

Whether we’re asking a quick question or having a team meeting, keep in mind these tips if you want your virtual communication to be effective and well-received:

 

  • Wait until you are in a quiet place to talk on the phone.
  • Stop other activities when you’re on the phone.
  • Avoid using a speakerphone whenever possible.
  • Know everyone’s time zones before scheduling or making calls.
  • Be aware of team members’ religions or cultures.
  • Be sensitive to others’ comfort zones with different methods of communication.
  • Come prepared for telephone or online meetings.
  • Take measures to prevent interruptions during phone or video calls.
  • Start a new email with each new topic.
  • Double check messages before sending them. And wait until you are in a clear frame of mind.
  • Use schedulers after hours for texts and email to preserve your thoughts without disrupting the recipient.
  • Implement your soft skills even in written communication

 

You don’t have to be a prolific writer or charismatic speaker to be an effective virtual communicator. Being aware of your surroundings, having restraint, being sensitive to others, and fully understanding how to use available communication tools will make you a pleasure to talk to on any platform.

 

 

Your turn: What virtual communication lessons have you learned? Share one of them in the comments below.


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Category: Communication, Featured, Gender Issues, Productivity, Work Trends

About the Author ()

Pamela La Gioia has been researching and writing about remote work since the early 1990's. She is the Senior Career Specialist of RemoteWork Source, the leading provider of technical and professional remote career opportunities.

Comments (2)

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  1. Mz La Gioia, nice job on this great “reminding” article I shared with my colleagues, a good article to read to keep awareness since several listed items are things we probably already know to be true but the act of keeping current on them is useful. The unique thought was his one that I asked my colleagues to consider
    “Emotions are expressed and received mostly through nonverbal cues, which are largely missing from text-based communication.”

    https://remoteworksource.com/virtual-communication-mistakes-make-you-look-bad/

    • Hi Jamie,
      You’re so right; most of these are common sense. But like most common sense, they don’t teach it in schools. 🙂 As the article showed, I’ve lacked in it, too. I think it’s good for everyone to have a reminder. Especially as communication does become more remote, and we interact more and more with people we’ll never personally meet.

      And, yes, communication is largely non-verbal. We have to adjust and figure out how we can convey things like sincerity, warmth, empathy, and other important soft skills through hardware.

      Thank you for your feedback!
      Pamela

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