September 2013 | Leadership
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: Nancy Rothbard, PhD, David Pottruck Associate Professor of Management, The Wharton School.
Make virtual communications and meetings more effective.
In today’s increasingly global business environment, face-to-face communication is often a rare luxury. The challenge for individual leaders and virtual teams is that we tend to rely on facial expressions and interactive feedback to fully interpret what people say. How do we know we’re being understood and that we understand others without those meaningful inputs?
Albert Mehrabian’s non-verbal communications research has some important insights. Mehrabian found that in situations in which the words don’t match the tone or facial expression, only 7 percent of what people “hear” is the spoken word: 38 percent of what people take away from an interaction comes from tone of voice, and 55 percent comes from body language and facial expressions.
What does this mean then for virtual teams? Out of necessity, virtual teams rarely meet face-to-face and, as a result, a great deal of the information that we typically rely on to derive meaning and value from an interaction can be missing. Skype and other video-based platforms can help bridge this gap, but phone calls and online exchanges are still the dominant mode of connection for virtual teams. How can we be sure that the critical messages our teams need to exchange are conveyed successfully?
Surprisingly, as a leader it’s often less about what you say and more about how you listen — and the questions you ask to clarify what you’ve heard.
Leaders of virtual teams can adopt practices that help them to lead successfully when face-to-face communication is not an option. These practices include summarizing what was said, creating space for others to speak, noticing the tone as well as the words, taking two-column notes, getting assistance, and numbering your points. You’ll find more details on each of these practices in the action steps below.
By engaging your team and technology in new ways, virtual meetings can work in your favor.
Nancy Rothbard is faculty director of Wharton’s The Leadership Edge: Strategies for the New Leader and teaches in Creating and Leading High-Performing Teams.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, Director of Innovative Learning Solutions at Wharton Executive Education. It is jointly sponsored by Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, Wharton Professor of Management Michael Useem, Director. Nano Tools Academic Director is Professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take.
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