It’s Not You. It’s Me.
I have found that by working virtually, it’s sometimes difficult to really gauge what someone else is feeling. Let’s say I’m giving instructions to a contractor for an e-learning project or communicating the impact of a schedule delay with a client, I don’t have the benefit of seeing body language. I can’t tell if someone looks tense, annoyed, or hurt. I can’t always interpret the tone in a phone conversation, and the other person may not be able to interpret mine. And we all know that the emotions and meanings one person reads into an email might be the complete opposite of what the author really intended. Well, it’s easy to blame the other person for any misunderstandings, but maybe it isn’t the other person. Maybe it’s me! So, how can we fix these problems when working virtually on an e-learning project? How can we do everything possible to make sure we are heading off these potentially difficult situations before they occur?
1. Be direct in giving instructions.
When designing e-learning courses, we want to be very clear what we want the learners to do or think differently. Are we being equally clear with each other when designing and developing the course? If you’re asking someone to do something for you, are you thorough in explaining what you mean? Don’t be afraid that you’ll insult someone by giving too many directions. The more information you give, the less likely you will have a misunderstanding later. Be direct about deadlines and expectations to both clients and those working on a project. In our field, a missed deadline can have lasting ramifications for the rest of the project. It’s better to make things clear in the beginning than have to fix a project or misunderstanding between you and a co-worker or client later.
2. Take some time before you speak.
There are times when I feel so passionate about something, I feel I need to say it right then. This is not always the best practice. Remember the quote by Mark Twain, “It’s better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” If you’re face to face with someone, you may have to physically remove yourself from the situation to be able to think before you speak. If it is a telephone interaction, try taking a deep breath and, although it may be difficult, say nothing. Before you angrily type an e-mail IN ALL CAPS, try walking away from your computer or phone. Come back to it in 10 minutes and see if you can write a more controlled response. Let’s say you’re working with a contractor who is repeatedly making the same mistakes in a course. You’ve discussed this with him or her, but the problem still exists. In a high-pressure situation, a knee-jerk reaction might be to fire off an email before really paying attention to how it will be received. Your frustration is valid, but it’s important to be sensitive to the feelings of others. Ask a co-worker that you trust to read the email to gauge the connotation behind your words. You might be surprised at how your tone sounded!
3. See things through the other person’s eyes.
If you work virtually like me, you may not really know your co-workers. Sure you might know surface details of their personal lives, but you have no idea what’s going on beyond the surface. a co-worker said something that you felt was rude? Did a person tell you a task would get done, but it didn’t? Now you’re angry and you want to confront the individual. Have you ever sent an email and didn’t receive a response? Maybe the recipient has been extremely busy. Someone said something that hurt your feelings? Maybe that person is having a myriad of personal issues and said the first came that popped out because of stress that was bottled up. Stop for a moment and think about what might be going on in that person’s life.
4. Confront appropriately.
Even if you do follow these tips, there will still be issues that need to be addressed directly. Maybe you have a team member who is regularly missing deadlines and then asking everyone else to come to the rescue at the last minute. Maybe you have a vendor who uses inappropriate language with you. It is appropriate to deal with these problems directly. Use words that are direct when explaining your feelings. An example of this might be, “I felt _______________ when you said/did _______________________________.” Maybe the person isn’t aware of the impression he or she is giving and needs to be made aware. It is important to clarify these situations as quickly as possible. Ignoring the problem and hoping it disappears will, in the long run, be detrimental to the parties involved and to your company.
We all have moments of success and failure as we navigate the waters of workplace interactions. However, trying different techniques and sharing those with the people around you can make these waters a little less rocky and a lot more pleasant. What tips have you found that help you work with the difficult people or situations in life and in your workplace? Take a moment to comment below. We can all learn from each other!