Sales tips, leadership communication skills insight and more from Steve Giglio, sales training professional for more than 25 years.

What People Need Now: Connection

Whether it’s your family, friends, colleagues, or clients…people need connection right now. Sequestering, quarantining, telecommuting, working from home…whatever you want to call, it’s essentially isolation. As a leader, it’s up to you to maintain a connection so that people understand that you are here for them, you understand their plight, and you are going to help them through this.

Here is a video I recorded from my own sequestering as I adjust to working remotely. My wife (and adhoc videographer) is in the same boat. And both of us wish you a safe and healthy passage through this time.

“This too shall pass.”

Top 5 Videoconferencing Pitfalls to Avoid

More than ever, even beyond the days after 9/11, we need to come together. We must care for one another even though we can’t be in the same room together. We’re social animals who need to communicate. Being present via videoconferencing has its challenges, but you must persevere. I know it because like you, I’m living it and teaching through this medium.

Don’t let these five pitfalls keep you away from colleagues or clients in a time when we need to be present, empathetic, and relational.

Putting Your Agenda Ahead of Your Colleagues

Years ago a coach of mine taught me to be interested, then interesting. You honor others by being present to them, understanding their issues, challenges, and worries. Nothing can take the place of realizing another person’s plight. Especially in these times, it’s important that you connect on a human level, not just a professional one that has a specific agenda. Ask them how they are? How their family is? Do they have loved ones abroad? Listening to people eases their pain by you understanding it. Believe me, they can’t hear what you want to convey UNLESS you understand and acknowledge them first.

Thinking That Your Physical Appearance Doesn’t Matter

I’ve heard people proudly say, “I did that videoconference in my PJs!” That’s nothing about which one should boast. What it says that you are taking a far too casual approach. Stop taking it easy with your physical comportment. Dress as though you are in the room with others, not a movie night at home. Dressing the part illustrates you care about yourself, your meeting participants and the subject that’s being discussed. Ask yourself…would I walk into my boss’s office dressed like this?

Multitasking

With so many people working at home now because of the Coronavirus, many will fall into the trap of “multitasking” during videoconferencing and teleconferencing. No one can see you texting, or answering an email on your phone, or catching up on Words with Friends. Stop it! Stop texting, reading from your phone, reading ANYTHING. The only thing you should be reading is the other people in the meeting and what’s important to them. In other words, stay alert. Keep contributing.

Losing Your Optimism

When you aren’t directly connected with your co-workers, supervisors, and clients, it’s easy to feel isolated and lose some of the positivity that is critical in creating good professional relationships. However, optimism is a funny thing. Once you become comfortable with it, it stays with you. It’s also an important way to manage our survival-minds. Your optimism is contagious. It also invites people to contribute to an issue where they otherwise may not from the somberness of the meeting’s climate. I’ll also note that connected to optimism is laughter. Be ready to laugh. Contribute something that is anecdotally amusing. Lighten the mood, especially in these times. Serious issues are being handled but that doesn’t mean we can have a good, old-fashioned laugh every so often!

Technological Incompetence

However you have to, make sure your videoconferencing system works. And since people are working from home now instead of the office, you must implement videoconferencing. It is not acceptable to only communicate via phone when you can be seen as well as heard. This makes a difference! Once you are seen, you’ll actually brighten a person’s day along with your own. Remember, it’s about staying connected through this time in our world. Be the bridge for people and keep others connected through your efforts.

Finally, make a list of people who you care about. Make a list of people who have contributed to your success in life, then, CALL THEM. You’ll feel great and so will they. This affects your physical and mental health. It also keeps the world connected.

As John Lennon said in Come Together, “one and one makes three.” That’s what the world needs now.

The 10 Worst Probing Questions

Every time I work with an executive or a sales team, I stress the importance of probing questions. They are open-ended questions that get you to a deeper level of understanding of your client’s business. They also give you a subtle opportunity to show that you’ve done your homework by asking well-researched questions. Feedback I get from business leaders is they wish more people would take the time to ask these types of questions since they lead to far more productive questions.

I’ve already written a blog post about probing questions (click on that link to read it!). But, there are good ones and bad ones. The latter is my focus right now since I’ve heard so many of them lately! So, here are the worst ones:

  1. How’s business? You should know this already. At the very least, you should understand industry trends and market conditions affecting your client’s business. You may not know the particulars of their business, but you should be able to have an intelligent conversation about the industry.
  2. What are your goals for this year? If you’ve done your due diligence, including talking to lower-level executives and studying the industry, you should have a pretty good idea about their goals. And don’t most company’s goals boil down to a) grow the business, b) increase sales, and c) reduce expenses? You need to get to why they haven’t achieved those goals yet.
  3. Who is your competition? Now you’re just being lazy. Google the business and the industry. Check out LinkedIn. Find news articles and quotes from company executives. The internet has made all of that information readily available so, find it!
  4. What makes your product good? Again, a basic homework chore. If possible, try the product. Seek out reviews of the company and its service. Study how they present their product or service on their web site and social media. You can easily determine what THEY think their advantage is, whether that’s accurate or not.
  5. Has your product been successful in the past? First, this is a close question easily answer with “yes” or “no.” Second, you need to know this ahead of time. It’s history…look it up! If you can’t find out on your own, find people connected to the industry and ask their opinion. You can use what they say as part of your presentation later on, again demonstrating your tenacity in researching this client.
  6. Who is your customer? “Everybody. Next question!” It is critical that you know who their customer is so that when you are presenting your recommendations, you know you are touching key points that address key needs of their customers. Social media postings are a great source of information and tone regarding how a company interacts with its customers. Use it to find out who they are targeting.
  7. Is there anyone else in the company I need to see? Translated: I want to know if there is someone more important than you I should have met with! There is almost always someone else to see. But you need this first contact to help shepherd you through the process. Better to ask “Who else would be appropriate for me to meet to determine their opinion as we move forward together?”
  8. Would you like this information that I prepared for you? If you didn’t think they needed it, why did you prepare it? Likely, you believed that it was useful so, give it to them. The only time not to is if, in the course of your discussion, you determine that some of the information is off the mark and now doesn’t make your points strongly. In that case, offer to edit the information you prepared and get it to them quickly.
  9. Do you have a sense of the problems your company faces this year? Some might think this a good question. I don’t. Of course they know the problems they are facing…it’s what keeps them up at night! But, if you probe about long-term issues and immediate problems, now you have an opportunity to solve the latter quickly and partner on the former over the long haul.
  10. What do you see as the next step? If they were honest with you, they might say, “Well…probably we will all say goodbye here and then I will walk out to about 100 new problems that have come up since we’ve been talking. It’s unlikely I’ll remember this meeting at the end of the day.” YOU need to know the next steps and strongly present them, letting them know you will be managing the follow up and driving this to a conclusion. Most clients appreciate someone who can take the proverbial ball and run with it.

Avoid these questions and you’ll be a step ahead of your competition (who are likely asking some or all of them!).

Which of these are you going to eliminate from your next client encounter? Let me know by replying below. – SG

Videoconferencing: How to Embrace This Mostly Hated Technology

Colleague #1: Hey, did you hear we’ve got a mandatory videoconference tomorrow?

Colleague #2: Oh No, I’d rather have a root canal!

We’ve all been there. 

Sometimes easier is also harder. Videoconferencing fits the bill. While on the surface, “meeting” with people via video technology rather than having them gather in one place seems far easier. But as you likely know, videoconferencing is rife with its own challenges. I was reminded of this recently as I hosted a training session with people from various parts of the world.

The business development training session I was delivering was important, valuable, and challenging just by the nature of the content. Adding video conferencing upped the challenge quotient! Not having everyone in the same room to play off one another reduced the spontaneity of debate. I had to be wary that the presentation didn’t become unidirectional with me doing all the talking. I also had to understand that videoconferencing requires the leader, in this case me, to be hyper-alert to people losing interest. I’m sure you’ve seen people blankly stare into their screens with the enthusiasm of a mortician. Worse, a distracted one. You run the risk of coming across like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day, “Bueller?, Bueller?, Bueller…?” 

Why People Hate Videoconferencing

So many reasons, so little time! As often as videoconferencing is used in today’s connected world, you might think people have accepted it as a normal way of doing business. In my experience, they have not. Why? Here are few excuses people use:

  • I’ve got deadlines to meet, I don’t have time for this
  • I don’t have anything to add to this meeting
  • I don’t care what the outcome is
  • This is “so” not urgent
  • The people in the meeting are the wrong people
  • Can’t this just be put into an email?

But the real reason people hate videoconferencing? Ineffectiveness of the conference leader! People tend to run videoconferences as they would an in-person meeting. And that is a big mistake.

The Key to a Successful Videoconference

As insinuated above, the key is YOU. As the leader, it’s up to you to make the videoconference compelling, interesting, and useful. If you’ve led a session, you know how much pressure this can put on you. However, in the end, whether the meeting is successful and worth the participants’ time falls directly on your shoulders. That’s a heavy load to carry. 

Let’s face it…in-person meetings are better. People are more connected. Distractions are left outside the meeting room. You can more easily interpret body language. You can see if John is checking his texts rather than paying attention! In short, you can read the audience and adjust your presentation on the fly so that you keep their attention. So much harder to do with a videoconference, right?

We can’t ignore, however, that videoconferencing is here to stay. They are far less costly than in-person meetings when you factor in travel expenses and lack of productivity/availability while traveling. Given that, you can host video meetings with far more regularity than in-person meetings. Can you imagine flying everyone in for a weekly check-in? Of course not. So, they do have a place in our current business operations. Let’s just work together to make them better, ok?

How to Increase the Effectiveness of Videoconferencing

Based on my experience with video conferencing sessions lately, I’m glad to offer you some key tips that will make your next session more impactful.

  • Call on People: How do you make sure people are alert, paying attention and engaged in a video conference (or any meeting, really)? Call on them! Establish up front while delivering your agenda that you intend to call on people to determine if what you are saying is resonating, if there are any questions, if there is anything needing further explanation, etc. As you might imagine, this will help make sure that people stay focused, ignore distractions, and are ready on a moment’s notice to answer a question. Fear of “looking bad” in this case is a great motivator!
  • Present an Agenda: I’ve stressed this many times on this blog…you HAVE to have an agenda to run an effective meeting. Get consensus on it up front. Stick to it. If someone tries to take the meeting in a different direction, table it! You can address that issue in another meeting or offline. 
  • Summarize every agenda point: Make sure people understand each agenda item and the goal that discussion around each point should target
  • Know your audience: Make sure you know why each agenda item and point is important to your audience. If you can’t define this, that’s a good indication that what you are presenting is not going to “land” with them.
  • Draw people out to fully frame an issue: On a videoconference, people will tend to “hide out” and not participate. It’s your job to get them to vocalize their thoughts for the benefit of all. Get participants involved so that it is “their” meeting, not just yours. Listen to how they react to what you are saying so you can understand their perspective. Define next steps: 
  • Listen to participants as though you are wrong. It fosters better participation.
  • Operationalize what needs to happen next: Make sure people understand their responsibilities, expected outcomes, and deadlines
  • Master the technology: So important! You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law, right (I wrote a book about it!). You must understand how your videoconferencing technology works. Work with your IT team to determine the potential pitfalls so you can solve issues before they happen. If the technology doesn’t work, nobody is going to blame Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or GoToMeeting. They will blame you! 

You Can Be an Effective Videoconference Leader 

Videoconferencing is only increasing. Embrace it, don’t run from it. See yourself as part of the meeting’s solution and stay on the playing field of the meeting. Do not sideline yourself.

Doing these actions shows your desire to make a genuine difference with the topic at hand and the people in the meeting. When the business day completes, you will be more fulfilled by having played and participated. Our hectic, heavily politicized, uber-connected world needs you and me to do this!

Have a videoconferencing nightmare to share? Post in the comments below or shoot me an email! – SG

 

 

 

Self-Assessment of Your Professional Transformation

Recently, I’ve written about needing to evolve in business so that you remain relevant and engaged. Through my evolution, I noted that I was listening as if I was right all the time. A shift to listening like I am wrong and without a preconceived response has made a big difference! These transformative moments (hopefully you’ve had a few of your own) can be difficult to sustain, especially when you’ve changed but nobody seems to care. So, how do you keep your evolution or transformation (or whatever you have been calling it) moving forward?

For me, it helps if I do a professional self-assessment. I ask myself a few key questions which will help me determine how I’m doing, if I’m still on track, or if I’ve let myself slip back into the familiar-yet-unsustainable. So, here I present some of the questions I ask so that you can assess yourself, along with my answers. We are in this together!

Self-Assessment for Professional Evolution

Have I set goals?
I’ve set my goals and review them daily in the morning.

Are the goals attainable?
Yes, and they are not pie-in-the-sky goals. They are attainable this year.

Have I created an Action Plan to realize and achieve these goals?
I’ve created a weekly activity sheet that lays out who I need to call and what I need to impart to them.

Can I measure it?
Yes, it’s a scorecard that I keep track with.

What is one habit I can stop?
Hesitation, thinking that my phone call, email message or meeting won’t make a difference to whomever I’m contacting.

What is one habit I need to get into?
Relishing getting the “no” or “not right now” response. Every “no” brings me closer to a “yes”

Do I have a committed listener who I check in with?
Yes, I have to dear friends and business colleagues who support me as I do them.

Share Your Answers

Ok, I’ve shared my assessment. Let’s take a look at yours. As you can see, it doesn’t need to be in-depth…just a quick check-in. Copy and paste the questions above into an email. Remove my answers and fill in your own. Send it to me at: steve@giglioco.com. In other words, I’ll be your committed listener!

 

You’ve Transformed! Nobody cares…yet.

In my last two posts, we looked at how transforming the “way things always get done” can have a meaningful impact on your life and career success. And in my work with business development executives and teams, I see that transformation take place. It’s incredible how fired up people become, ready to take on challenges with new ways of thinking and problem-solving. They are excited to change their behavior and establish stronger relationships with their clients and employees.

The problem? Nobody cares. No matter how you’ve transformed, people are going to treat you like the “old you.” They will relate to you the same way, expect things from you the same way, and respect you the same as they did before.

So, why bother with the transformation in the first place? Because it’s how you’ve decided you want to be! But it will take some work in order for others to get on board.

Understanding Some Common Truths

Now that you’re all excited about changing the world, it’s time to factor in some truths as you engage the world around you:

* No one else will be fired up
* They didn’t go through the goal setting process you did
* They haven’t transformed their thinking or behavior
* It’ll take longer than you think for them to come around
* It will be more challenging
* You’ll get distracted with other fires to put out
* It will not be perfect
* It will never be over

These truths are hard to accept. Many times, I will see clients buckle from any or all of them, reverting to their old way of doing things…and of course, getting the same old results. However, understanding these truths aids us in our crusade. They bring objectivity to transformation. Believe it or not, they’re actually very important to experience. Here’s why.

The more irritating they are, the clearer your line of sight is to remain undaunted and unencumbered by them. It’s great you now see these barriers for what they are; just barriers that are surmountable. The opportunity you’ve committed to requires you to change your understanding of these barriers. It comes down to how you hold barriers. You either hold them as impenetrable or as a reminder of your new commitment to grow/prosper because YOU declared it.

Survival vs Commitment Modes

Barriers win when we go into our “survival-mode.” As noted above, this is when we abandon our new way of being in favor of that which is comfortable. In other words, you’ve survived this long doing things that way, maybe the known is better than the unknown. But does that feel right? Probably not. Why? Because deep down, you know this will only get you so far, get you only the results you’ve gotten in the past.

Barriers disintegrate when we go into our “commitment-mode.” This is when we stay true to our transformed values, objectives and goals, no matter what. Honoring our commitment to transform means sticking with it and keeping it moving forward. The barriers are there and your challenge is to figure how to move around them. My mother-in-law has a great expression, “Never add drama to drama.” Hold the barrier at face value, nothing more. Then check-in with yourself by asking how you’d feel by being unreasonable about the barrier and refusing to let it stop you. Each time I do this, I sleep better at night.

Remember that life is a series of experiences where you either go into survival-mode or commitment-mode. However, the more you can do the latter, the less the former will seem as comfortable. When you get to that point, you’ve transformed and are ready to take new challenges head-on!

Good success in your 2020 crusade, it’s worth it!

I’ve Been Listening All Wrong

In all of my coaching, I consistently advise clients to listen first, sell second. But it turns out…I’ve been listening all wrong.

More to the point…I realized I needed to listen as though I’m wrong. What that means is that I don’t have all the answers and the ones I do have could be wrong. I need to wait to get all the information before forming my response. Wow…when that hit me, I realized how much more connected I could become to my clients. What a way to start off the new year!

Giving is Receiving

Have you ever noticed that when you’re speaking with someone, the person starts to talk before you have finished your thought? Or they will say, inadvertently, “Oh, I knew that.” Generally, people do this to demonstrate their participation in the conversation. They also may do this defensively. In either case, it is passive listening in the sense that they really aren’t hearing what you’re saying…they are just waiting for their turn.

To counter this, I’ve decided that I will give my ear (and time) to their fully expressed thoughts. I am committed to listening as completely as I can with the hope that they, in turn, will listen to me. Each day I’ve done this in 2020, I’ve gotten better at understanding a person’s sentiment behind what they’re saying. I get more in tune with them. I illustrate my patience and ability to honor their thought. I’ve also discovered I’m better able to uncover their personal plight or challenge. The mere acts of giving my full attention has allowed me to receive more information, more insight, and more details from which I can create a recommendation.

Slowing the Framing of Responses

Like you I’m sure, it is impossible for me not to frame my rejoinder thought/comment to someone who’s speaking. It’s involuntary. The big difference with my new “always wrong” approach is that I am slowing down the response-framing by over-listening. Essentially, I am listening with no hidden agenda. And the result? I’m amazed at how forthcoming people are. I’ve gotten far deeper into their core issues…and have gotten there faster since we aren’t debating my quickly-formed opinions. My response are more information leading to a better, two-way conversation.

Putting This Transformation into Practice

Many years ago, a great client offered me a large position within his organization. At that time, I was in the planning of going out on my own, so as much as I was honored by his offer, I knew I was destined to run my own business. During our interaction though, he asked me something I’ve never forgotten. He asked, “I’ve seen you train over two hundred of my team this past year and I’m curious, do you do anything wrong?” At that moment I became a deer-in-the-headlights. I didn’t have a clue how to answer him, essentially, I froze.

Noting this, he came back with saying, “You’re delivering the exact training I want, but are you approachable once the program is over?” And that trigged a revelation.

What I had been somewhat blind to is that my training had a bias. I had time for the participants that “got” what I was teaching, but not for others who needed more time/context to get it. The training messages were about me, NOT about what I was offering for people to assimilate and adapt their own lives and careers.

I changed my teaching style from his feedback. I’ve made it my focus to make time for everyone in any training. This change in my behavior inspired a desire to learn more about myself, my humanity and drove a deep desire to help people. That’s why this year I’ve chosen to listen as though I’m wrong, to allow people to fully express their ideas, issues, or frustrations. The value of listening as though you are wrong is to put yourself in a secondary position/mute your desire to fix, allowing the other person to fully express their thoughts, with NO AGENDA to correct them, only to contribute to, hear and acknowledge them, when you have understood their plight.

I feel like a better person from this, excited to see how 2020 unfolds with a new perspective.

Can you listen like you’re wrong? Need some help? Let’s connect and work on it together. 

 

Is It Time to Evolve?

Change is not Compromise

My invitation to all of you in this New Year is to embrace the fact that behavioral change is NOT compromise; it is transformation. You change to make a larger difference with yourself, your team and your clients. You change to keep pace with a world that is moving at breakneck speed. It’s the courage to evolve. To question who you are now, to become either a better person or a person in harmony with now, not what used-to-be. This is not easy stuff. I realize as I work on myself with my coach to be the best I can be, my commitment is to partner with you to become the executive you wish to be, now.

The philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset once said, “Life is fired at us at point-blank range, with no time to think.” This is the part that interests me. These “no time to think” moments offer the opportunity of transformation. To action a new set of behaviors. To experiment and trust you’ll exist/thrive in a new way. Essentially, a new YOU, because it serves YOU now. Knowing/accepting your old-self just doesn’t serve you anymore.

When Is It Time to Change?

The new year gives many people a touchpoint from which they start looking at how to advance their careers and lives. When do you know it’s time to change? One way to know is if you find yourself thinking any (or all!) of these things:

* I want/need to be a better leader
* I’m unsure how to manage up
* I’m wary about how to comport myself with my new team
* I’m not driving the revenue for myself and my firm that I’m capable of
* I’m not seen as the change-maker I used to be
* I know how to transform our business but I’m fearful to start
* I can do more
* I have a voice that makes a difference, but nobody’s listening

To paraphrase Karlfried Graf von Durckheim, “Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.” Once you commit yourself to growth, life moves with you. You become Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey WITH a defined time and place to sail/evolve to. And if you are a client making this commitment, your journey becomes my journey. Your journey is my inspiration and dedication.

It will be an honor to work with you. Let’s let the adventure begin!

What is a Healthy Debate?

One often hears the term “healthy debate” as a reference to two or more sides getting together to hash out an issue that could escalate into argumentative discourse if not dealt with upfront. Some might believe that a debate in business cannot be healthy at all since it pits people against each other. They’d rather have a “discussion.” Let’s take a look at why debating can be good for your business…if handled properly.

Debate in Business

First, let’s clarify that debating in business is different than the debates we’re seeing now with our presidential race. The focus in the latter is winning at all costs. It really is about surviving as the candidate of choice.

The great John Wooden once said:

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Debate vs Discussion

Debating is not the same as having a discussion. A discussion is when people get together with a common issue that needs addressing and all parties have an open conversation about solving that issue. While some may come to the table with ideas on the subject, everyone is there to arrive at a decision based on the input from all.

In a debate, while the issue at hand may be the same, how it is worked out is different. There are “sides,” individuals or groups who have already determined what they believe to be the best course of action. They arrive to debate their points and convince others of their merits. Sounds like the basis of an argument, right? It should not be. What it really means is that people have put some significant thought into the subject already and have come to the table backed with their research, knowledge and experience to voice their input. I like that! And so should you. It signifies that people have cared enough about the subject to put some strong thinking into it and are prepared to communicate their position strongly.

Tips for a Healthy Debate

However, as their leader, you need to set the playing field of a debate so that it doesn’t escalate to all out war. Below I list 5 tips for debating that should be shared with your team the next time you see teams digging in for a fight:

#1 Have an Agenda

Make sure you have scoped out where the debate should start and where it should end. What is the end result needed from the debate? Usually, it is a decision on how to proceed. Too often teams that debate go off on excessive tangents that cloud their larger issue. Stay vigilant to the larger issue, keep track of time. Make sure a decision is reached at the end.

#2 Ask Questions to Forward the Debate

Rather than shutting an idea down too soon in order to be right, ask questions of the team. This will foster advanced discussions of the point at hand. Asking smart questions credentials you as a forward thinker and establishes you as someone who desires a clear outcome.

#3 Offer Ideas/Recommendations, Don’t Insist on Them

Too often executives insist on their ideas being accepted. Be open to hearing what the other side is saying. Yes, offer your recommendation so that it can be discussed. But then see how it sits with the others and whether it opens up new ideas. Discussion drives acceptance. Colleagues need to vet an idea in order to wrap their arms around it and accept it.

#4 Summarize, Summarize, Summarize!

The more you summarize a point the more you move the debate forward while acknowledging your teammate. Make sure they know you understood their recommendation, even if you are not convinced it is the right way to go.

#5 Present the Next Step in the Process

Never let the debate get away from you. Rather, present the next step that the team needs to take based on your recommendation. They need to “see your math,” meaning that they need to know how you came to your recommendation and why you are suggesting the next step. Even if your idea of the next step is inaccurate, by presenting it the entire team will create the correct one.

Go ahead…debate! But make sure, in the end, both sides feel like they were heard and understood. And, that a strong decision was the result, even if both sides had to give in a little. That’s a healthy debate!

Have you ever lost control of a debate? How did you get it back? Share your experience with a comment. Thanks! -sg

How to Overcome Virtual Environment Challenges

In my last post, I wrote about the communication vacuum created by virtual environments. It featured a client who was making recommendations that didn’t land because he got no prior input from his company’s leadership, most of whom were not located in his office or region. He had not worked to close the distance gap through communication. That’s what we will look at in this post.

Virtual Environments Challenge Our Relevance

Have you ever completed a virtual call/meeting and asked yourself:
“Did we accomplish anything?”
“Was I heard?”
“What will people do next with this issue?”

Communicating in a virtual environment challenges our relevance! All of us want to contribute, all of us want to be affirmed. But doing so solely by electronic means (email, text, calls, etc.), limits how you can directly communicate with your teams and leadership. However, many people see the solution here as more video calls or more frequent trips to the corporate office so that you can stay “top of mind.” While that can help, I believe people should focus less on the methods in which they are communicating and paying far more attention to HOW they are communicating. Are you having meaningful conversations or just surface-level, tactical ones? The former establishes you as a trusted advisor and leader; the latter creates the chance that you will be commoditized…just one of the pack with little relevance.

Research the Key Issues

One assumption my client from my last post made was that he already understood the key issues facing the leadership team. At one point, he may have. But let me ask you…have your priorities and goals ever changed? Of course they have. So, it is imperative that you find out the current “keep me up at night” issues your audience is facing. Do they have new challenges? If they have the same challenges they’ve had before, why is that? What makes them persist? Probing about key issues will be paramount to your being able to make a solid recommendation. And please…do NOT have this conversation via email or text. At a bare minimum, have a phone call. Video chat would be next and then, best of all, a face-to-face. Via the last two, you will be able to assess facial and body language, which will help you really get to the root of the issues.

Empathize but Don’t Agree

Maintaining trust in a virtual environment is difficult, to say the least. If you aren’t having meaningful conversations with your team and leadership, your status will start to erode. Remaining in communication is very important but the communication you have also has to have substance. If you’ve established trust, the person you speak with will reveal deeper issues that will seem very real. You can empathize with the person and acknowledge that they believe these issues to be critical. However, your job is to help them, so it does not help if you accept a “there’s nothing we can do” attitude. There likely is something to be done and you will work to discover what it is. It’s important that you remain calm and confident. Do not lose your cool or your patience. Reach to realize your listener’s struggle but don’t get caught up in the downward spiral. Stay separated enough that you can bring a new perspective.

Communicate with Questions

Virtual environments create communication time gaps. What I mean is that many times, you might realize that you haven’t communicated with a team member or supervisor in many days. And while you may not have a critical issue to discuss, reaching out and asking them a question about the challenges you already know about (see above!), is a good way to open up a communication line. It’s the best way I know to cheat on the test, meaning it gets underneath the core issue driving the person’s behavior with your sincere curiosity. And do it often. It will further establish the trust they have in you, your leadership, and your desire to partner to solve the issues.

Check-In

In both one’s business and personal life, knowing that someone is thinking about you and is concerned about your issues goes a long way to maintaining a healthy relationship. Check-in with your team often but remember to also do the same with your boss. People want to know that you have their backs. Doing so in a virtual environment is actually far EASIER than before when we didn’t have all the technology to do so. Firing off a quick email or text to ask about how they are progressing with known issues just lets them know you haven’t let the issue go since your last conversation. It is top of mind for you, too, and you are still working on solutions. Your staff will appreciate that you are “going the extra mile” with them while leadership will see you as someone not just concerned about his/her own silo…rather, as a team player willing to help wherever needed. And don’t we ALL want people like that on our team?

Virtual environments do present a lot of challenges, but most of them can be overcome with communication. As we’ve discussed here, though, it’s not just the method and frequency that matters (though they DO matter). It is the substance that matters most. Make sure you are having meaningful conversations with your team and leadership. If you struggle with how to do this, give me a call (ok…you can email if you must!).