Here's Part III of my guidelines for communications in virtual teams. See "Virtual Communications: II," Point Lookout for February 2, 2005, for more.
- Don't give the time or date in voicemail
- Most systems already provide the day, date, and time for messages. Why duplicate it? And if you're in a different day and time yourself, you could just confuse the recipient.
- Give your phone number twice
- For voicemail messages, supply your phone number not only near the beginning, but also at the end.
- If using a desk or wall phone, press the button to hang up
- Replacing the handset to hang up creates a clattering sound that can be irritating in voicemail.
- Eating, drinking, and chewing gum are no-nos on the phone
- Whether live or in voicemail, avoid these activities. Even when you're muted, you never know when you'll need to speak.
- Sit up straight or stand when you're on the phone
- Sit up straight
when you're on the phone.
You need the full power
and nuance of your voice.
- Slouching or lying down interferes with full use of your lungs and diaphragm. You need the full power and nuance of your voice.
- Learn how to use your voicemail system
- Learn how to skip, skip-with-erase, move to mailbox, reply-immediate, pause, repeat, transfer to email, forward, forward with preface, forward to list, sort by priority, and whatever else your system offers.
- Learn the remote commands too
- If you call into your office system to pick up messages, learn the most useful commands. And carry them on a wallet card.
- Customize your outgoing message
- If you know you'll be returning at a specific time, record an outgoing message that tells callers when to call back. This can really cut down on your voicemail.
- Consider calling someone's voicemail directly
- Often, you don't really need to speak to the recipient live. If a voicemail will do, call voicemail directly.
- Suspend interpretation of silences
- If someone doesn't respond to a message — email or voice — check whether the message was received. Going ballistic is usually a bad idea, especially when based on a misinterpretation of silence.
- Always confirm — don't rely on silence
- Never leave a message of the form "I'll let you know if X condition is satisfied, otherwise execute Y." Always confirm either way, because messages don't always arrive.
- Slow down your "offense" response
- In face-to-face communications, we use body language, facial expression, and tone of voice to adjust our communications and our interpretations, and this keeps us out of trouble. By email and phone, where these adjustments are problematic or impossible, we're more likely to offend and to feel offended. Slow down and ask for elaboration. Breathe more.
Most important, express appreciations verbally, publicly, and often. In person, we smile, we nod, we backslap, and any number of other things that express approval non-verbally. Remotely, these gestures are unavailable to us, so when we want to encourage each other, or express approval, we have to say things verbally that seem unnatural, artificial, or forced. It takes practice. Get started today. Top Next Issue
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