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Recognising and Bridging the Online Communication Gap

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

Getting communication right when you’re an Online Business Operator or Virtual Assistant is critical, and so too is managing miscommunications and misunderstandings when things go wrong.

Because VAs and Online Business Operators are not located in their client’s physical office space, there is no opportunity for the client to actually communicate in 3 dimensions that an in-person conversation allows – therefore they often miss important physical cues. This means that there is an increased risk of misunderstandings and miscommunications.

And it occurs across all mediums of our online communication, including phone calls, text messages, emails, and instant messaging.

Not so long ago I had a phone conversation with one of my clients. She was calling to discuss a particular issue, and instead of just listening to what she was saying, I started working on it while she was talking to me… trying to solve the issue quickly. Without even realising it, my responses to her had become clipped and abrupt – totally not my intention, but as it turned out, this was the reality of what she was experiencing during our phone call.

I was fortunate because my client’s business is in the area of communication – a skill she has mastered over many years – and she felt comfortable enough to let me know that she thought I sounded ‘extremely angry’ during the phone call, and of course we were able to then discuss and resolve the miscommunication.

However, the great majority of your clients will probably never tell you when issues like this arise for them, so it’s important to be aware that there is always the possibility of misunderstandings or miscommunications occurring.

By simply being ‘present’ and aware in our phone conversations, you can mitigate the chance of miscommunications or misunderstandings arising. Be professional but upbeat in your verbal communication – smile when you’re speaking (this really works!) Another tip is to stand up during calls as standing puts less pressure on your diaphragm – your voice is clearer and the caller is more likely to understand what you are saying. Check in with your caller to make sure they understand clearly what you are saying, and listen when they respond (don’t butt in until they are finished speaking). End the call with something positive – “Thanks John, have a great afternoon”.

Because we often don’t realise what cues we are putting out, and because there is no physical ability to check in by reading the other person’s gestures and facial expressions, it’s important that we clarify and check when our internal ‘radar’ starts to sound. The easiest way to do this is to listen and then ask questions. Or, wait until the other person has finished speaking and then respond with statements such as “So, just to clarify, you [summarise what you understood they have just communicated to you]”, or “What I understood from what you just said is [outline your understanding of the message they just conveyed to you]”.

In written communication – emails, text messages, instant messaging – it’s critical that you take the time to read your message before hitting the ‘send’ button. Make sure your message is clear and to the point – and not ambiguous in any way. Don’t use flowery or over-complicated language – it’s not necessary. If there are key points you need to get across, think about using dot points to clearly list these out for the reader.

And, of course, if your client sends you a written message that is unclear, then for goodness sakes, clarify and check to make sure you’ve understood what is being said.

Don’t fall into the trap of taking it personally, and never assume – EVER!

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