Remote Success: Communicating like an adult in business

Ever order a cake and want a special message written on it, but it didn’t quite work out the way you intended?

People started sharing their biggest “cake fails,” where they ordered a cake and asked for a particular message on it, but the employees at the bakery got it totally wrong. Here are some examples: 

Best Wishes Suzanne

Under Neat That

We Will Miss You 

Photo Credit: Susan Joy Clark

Happy Birthday Mark With a C

Happy Birthday In Spanish 

That’s good for a chuckle, but it’s actually a pretty good illustration of how terrible people are at communication. 

We’d all like to think that, as functioning adults, we’re really great at communication. But in general, people are terrible communicators—in any situation. It doesn’t matter if it’s with your co-workers, your partner, a friend, or a bakery employee, we tend to avoid saying exactly what we mean. 

Communication is vital to the success of any relationship and even more important in business.

Communication is vital to the success of any relationship and even more important in business. So how do we become effective communicators? The answer is not so easy. The best way we can try to communicate is to say that you need to be present to the moment while respectful to the particular history that this person brings to the interaction while always being curious about what was actually heard. Did you get that? What did you get from that?

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” We all assume that we’re able to communicate and that we’ve been understood. Then we’re surprised when something goes wrong or someone completely misunderstands what we were trying to say. 

Poor communication stems from a lack of understanding the other. We say things that are understood differently by the other. Maybe it’s because we are hiding due to some worry we have of appearing uncertain. Or perhaps we simply assumed that we were understood but we were not. Or we don’t want to hurt the other and so we sugar coat things.

Take the cake example. Why didn’t the bakery worker confirm with the person ordering the cake? Clearly, “under neat that” doesn’t belong there. But they didn’t follow up because maybe they were afraid of sounding silly. And why didn’t the person ordering the cake confirm that the bakery wrote it down correctly? Maybe they assumed it was a joke. 

In 2011, Google set out to try to understand what makes a team effective. Specifically, they wanted to figure out why some teams find success and others fall behind. They studied 180 Google teams, conducted more than 200 interviews, and analyzed more than 250 team attributes. Surprisingly, they couldn’t identify if a clear pattern of behavior or characteristics would make building a great team easy. However, they discovered that what really mattered was not about who was on the team, but how team members worked together. 

According to this article on re:Work, they identified five key characteristics of a successful team: 

  1. Psychological Safety: Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. 
  2. Dependability: Team members get things done on time and meet Google’s high bar for excellence. 
  3. Structure & Clarity: Team members have clear roles, plans, and goals. 
  4. Meaning: Work is personally important to team members. 
  5. Impact: Team members think their work matters and creates change. 

Interestingly, the study also found that proximity of team members (i.e. sitting together in an office) was not significantly connected with effectiveness, and neither was team size, workload, seniority, or team members’ individual performance. 

So what does this mean for a remote workspace? 

The best way to overcome problems with communication is to first realize and accept that we are terrible at it. And that means we have an opportunity to improve. How? Here are a few of the highlights. Each one of these is worth reflecting on, practicing with others, and cultivating a deeper appreciation for.

  • Ground your assessments
  • Respect the historical background of the other party
  • Allow negative things to happen without being threatening
  • Confirm shared goals 
  • Be passionate 

Team members end up as open and honest, not because they expect to receive any kind of reward, but because they realize the reward that results from good coordination that comes from effective communication.  

Here’s how Clevertech does it. 

We practice. We practice in low-risk situations. We ask everyone to practice. We read. We talk. We make sure everyone talks. We give opportunities to try. We support. We expect professionalism. We weed out those that do not have a similar mission. We keep growing those that keep trying. We care. We keep practicing. 

Here are a few practical things we do to foster this environment: 

Personality typing. When you understand better what will trigger the other person then you’re in a better place to choose your words when you’re communicating. It’s not about what you say it’s about what the other person hears. 

Leadership training courses. We encourage employees to participate in training that will foster growth and great business practices. 

Assessments. We’re not big fans of the “performance review” but we’re currently taking action to figure out how to make assessments valuable for employee and company growth. We want to know what our employees want and how we can help make it happen.

Focus on the care and the outcome. At Clevertech, our main priority is care—for our customers and our employees. Everything we do is in order to provide care for everyone.

If you’d like to learn more about Clevertech, our culture, and career openings we currently have available, check out our YouTube channel and visit clevertech.careers.

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