Business is full of phone calls and increasingly video calls. It's 2017 and digital communications are mainstream, which means that Skype, Google Hangouts or other video conferencing technologies can be a regular part of the business day.
These technologies are great because they allow small businesses to be able to recruit employees from anywhere and more easily manage remote employees. It provides us a more personal way to interface with colleagues from not only around the country, but even the world as business becomes increasingly global. It's not only the Fortune 500 companies that are expanding their global footprint, a survey from USForex last year showed that 58 percent of small businesses serve international customers.
The takeaway is that if you're serious about succeeding in business, it's critical to be prepared to speak to diverse counterparts and you have to have a multimedia-friendly approach. What may be acceptable as far as culture and etiquette in the US, may not be the same in another country which may cause misunderstandings, or people leaving a meeting not feeling appreciated.
I was reminded of the importance of professional etiquette recently after learning about news reports of Donald Trump's phone calls with foreign leaders like the president of France and the Australian prime minister. It's a great example that we can ruffle feathers unintentionally sometimes at work.
So here are a few tips I have learned along the way to best handle professional communications in a connected, remote and global world:
1. Be Aware of Your Facial Expressions
When participating in video conferencing, remember, you're on camera and the person or people on the other side can see all your reactions. That might sound obvious enough, but typically on a video call, you're focusing on the other person. Many of us aren't usually aware of our natural expressions, which can become intensified when you're conducting a video call with only facial expressions to read, rather than other body language.
You want to make sure your "resting" expression is engaged and pleasant and if you're a very expressive person, you might want to try and moderate some of your expressions and reactions. This can be especially helpful when dealing with people from other cultures--Americans tend to be a lot more outwardly emotive than other cultures and people read emotions differently.
2. Take a Minute Before Responding
One way to make communication more clear between you and a counterpart is to simply pause briefly instead of responding immediately. In general, this is a good approach because it gives you just a little more time to absorb information and then respond more thoughtfully. I've embraced this from my yoga practice and found it useful in so many areas of my life -- the simple action of a pause or taking a deep breath truly focuses you in the moment. The benefit of being more focused and present when speaking with someone is that you enable yourself to listen more clearly, minimizing opportunities for misunderstanding.
3. Be Mindful
This is closely related to my previous point, but when it comes to business communication these days, it's important to be universally mindful of who you're speaking to and how you are delivering the message. It's best to think about this even before the meeting starts--don't just leave it for when you're in the moment, be prepared. Also, be aware and respectful of the other person's time on your call and not get distracted by emails, IMs, texts that may be alerting you. When on a video call, the other person can see if you aren't paying attention, which can cause potential issues in a business relationship.
If you know the nationality or cultural background of the person you'll be speaking with, it's helpful to do a little bit of research about that culture or to check in with colleagues who might have more experience working in that part of the world. It also goes a long way to take some time and make sure your webcam and lighting setup are inviting and not a hindrance to communication, as well as your internet connection being stable. That's a really basic step, but so often overlooked.
Being deliberate and prepared can go such a long way in business. As we deal with different and changing forms of communication and interact with people we might not understand as easily, applying yourself in the moment and ahead of time will go a long way for your professional communication.