Why is miscommunication common in the virtual workplace? Lack of context. And it’s not just that e-mails and phone conversations lack a person’s visual reaction to what you’ve said.
Think about the information you can glean just from the seating arrangement in a physical conference room — who sits next to whom, who’s at the head of the table, who has put a little extra distance between herself and her neighbor, and so on. All those cues are missing in a typical teleconference.
As a result, even the simplest of things can be misinterpreted. For instance, does the use of an exclamation mark in a text message (“I didn’t know that!”) indicate that the writer is excited, surprised, or angry? Before sending an important e-mail, ask someone else to read it just to make sure it won’t be misconstrued. Moreover, I strongly advise that virtual communications use respect, positive affirmations, and gratitude to set the right tone and proper context. “When you have shared context and you exchange information, you’ll have a shared understanding,” says Karen Sobel-Lojeski, a professor at Stony Brook University.
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