Tech Isn’t the Root of Your Communications Issues

We live in the most robust era of virtual communication ever. The nature of collaboration tools spanning high-res video to immersive spatial audio are breathtaking in every aspect. Yet, despite these incredible advances, many organizations and individuals aren’t seeing more fundamental collaboration challenges being solved. In many cases, the culprit is not the tools—it’s the collaboration culture itself.

I’ve been in the collaboration business my entire life. Since I count all forms of communication as collaboration, you can join me in experience qualification. We are a communicative species; our messages are both simple and complex. Understanding the nuances of intentions against actual conveyed messages has always been a high-stakes affair.

[Jeff Day: SCN Hall of Fame 2018]

In the zeal for improved communications, collaboration tools set out to make it easier and more productive to escalate the modality of our dialogues. Simple presence indication, for example, can let others know we are on- or offline. Virtual meetings in whatever form them come offer the borderless meeting room, where we can conduct our business from anywhere at any time.

Why do our meetings and communications struggle? It has nothing to do with the tools; it has everything to do with you and your culture. I have not seen anything worse than a bad communicator in a bad tech environment—it’s destructive to an organization’s collaboration culture.

Many companies I interact with indicate they value collaboration at some level as a company value. Few companies really live it. Since the focus of this conversation spans both culture and technology vectors, I will outline a few ideas about how leaders and technologists can improve their collaboration and maximize innovation and approaches.

1. Verbal and Non-Verbal Communications

Over the years, I’ve frequently cited these communications facts: 93 percent of communication is non-verbal; and people remember 30 percent of what they hear, 40 percent of what they see, and 70 percent of what they see and hear.

Communication is a sensory experience. What you do while you communicate speaks volumes. It affects communications. When you attend a meeting, are you truly there? Or are you simply occupying a seat and sucking air out of the room? Meeting effectiveness can tie back in a significant way to engagement level.

2. Meeting Manners

When was the last time you looked at your Myers-Briggs personality score? How often does that impatient side of you, or of another meeting participant, find itself barging in on a conversation before the speaker has had a chance to finish their thought? Painful, right? This is the epitome of pontification. It demonstrates a lack of discussion discipline in the meeting and culture. Meetings feel rudderless and people feel as though their time is being wasted.

This problem is accentuated in tech-driven collaboration. It plays out on an audio or web call when people talk over each other. In video calls, people may put themselves in silent/stealth mode, not activating video and muting mics, which communicates a whole different message altogether. Tech does not solve communications problems—it amplifies them.

3. Be Present with Your Presence

Presence in the collaboration technology sense refers to red, yellow, and green light status. Are you available for communications? If you are a heavy corporate instant messaging user, you know this already. Our smart devices drive presence awareness as well. The notion of indicating you are open for communication helps others know when and how to engage with you. But does your presence indicate your presence?

Here’s the snafu folks: green doesn’t always mean go. There’s nothing worse than seeing a phone or video icon in a meeting and the question turns to the AWOL participant who now needs to be caught up on the conversation.

It’s an exciting time to be a working professional. The tools at our disposal offer limitless possibilities for unleashing the productivity and potential of teams. If you are not taking advantage of the borderless conference room now, you are living in the stone age. The reality is that your face-to-face time becomes 100 times more effective when you leverage technology. But remember, collaboration tools don’t solve collaboration problems

Collaborative Leadership Tips

1. Consider making some of your meetings a no-phone zone. Check handsets at the door if needed.

2. Mobile devices may be required for critical content. Take 20 seconds at the beginning of the meeting to clarify what tech will be used during the meeting to remove this barrier. For example: I will be using my tablet to take notes, or I need to access my presentation on my laptop.

2. Come to a meeting prepared. If you have been invited to an online meeting, come ready to engage. Prepare with pre-read materials done or action item follow-up ready. Everyone’s accountable.

3. Turn your camera on! In an age of web and video conversations, the price of participation is presence.

4. Seek first to listen. One of the major challenges in tech collaboration is maintaining the natural feel of a conversation. Good meeting manners have always been grounded in a desire to understand what others are saying rather than forcing your idea on the table.