Communication – Part One: How To Ensure Your Communication Style Sets You Up For Success With Your Virtual Teams
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In the first episode of our three-part special, we delve deep into the world of communication and take a look at how your ability to communicate effectively with your virtual team is often the difference between your success and failure.
Communication is not only one’s ability to listen; communication is the response you get.
This episode is full of insights from both Barbara and Matt on how to communicate with your team effectively for success. Some of the areas covered are:
- Understanding the differences between the three communication styles.
- Accepting that one style of communication is not going to fit every single task.
- Communication must happen regardless of how experienced your VA is.
- You must have clarity on how you want to be communicated with in order to promote work flow.
Let us know what your key takeout has been from this episode and join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.
In this episode:
02:36 – Communicate effectively
03:14 – “Communication is the response you get”
04:25 – Setting up for success
05:48 – Styles of communication
07:49 – Communicate what failure looks like
11:20 – Slowdown in order to speed up
12:22 – Communication must happen regardless of experience
17:00 – Reporting back
18:14 – Clarify how you want to be communicated with
21:10 – Wrapping things up
Barbara: Hi, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Virtual Success, where I’m joined with my fantastic co-host Matt Malouf. Hey, Matt, how’s it going?
Matt: I’m well, Barbara. How are you?
Barbara: I’m good, thank you, and excited about today’s show.
Matt: I know. It’s a really interesting and exciting topic we’re going to be talking about today.
Barbara: Absolutely, absolutely, and just for the listeners, we’ve been talking about, Matt and I have had the topic of communication written on our podcast show list for quite some time, and it’s a show we haven’t done yet. And actually today, I was just saying to Matt off-air that I’m really glad we didn’t do it yet, because today we have such a powerful episode for you based on actual live case studies and actual live problems that we are seeing with some of our clients in Virtual Angel Hub, and we’re going to dissect them on this podcast, and actually on a few, we’re going to split this podcast into three episodes, that’s how deep this topic is.
We’re actually going to kick off today with talking about, how do we actually set up for success? How do we make sure that our communication sets up for success with a virtual team?
Then episode two, we’re going to dive into giving effective feedback, with emphasis on the word “effective,” and then in episode three, we’re then going to move on to having the tough conversations, because these, obviously, are the things that can derail us emotionally, can be very challenging to attack, and we’re going to give you some great strategies and tips on how to attack those tough conversations in a constructive way.
Matt: Just to add to what you’re saying, Barbara, I think, for the listeners, I want everyone to understand that, what we’re teaching in these three episodes are relevant to not only your virtual teams but your teams that you may have in your offices or locally as well. These teachings are universal and you need to really understand that communication at all levels in your organization is critically important.
Barbara: In fact, actually, I would say, and I know you’ll agree with me here Matt, for me, in what I’ve observed over the last couple of years of dealing with clients, dealing with virtual teams, I would say that your ability to communicate effectively together actually is the difference between success and failure with this. Task lists and processes and all those things are vitally important that we’ve been discussing on this podcast. But your ability to hear each other and to be able to communicate effectively for success definitely can make or break your success in this area and that goes for any staff member, actually, I think.
“Communication is the response you get”
Matt: You know, the best definition I ever heard of communication, was at a seminar years ago and the speaker, I can’t remember their name, would you believe, but they said to me, they said to the group, “Communication is the response you get.” And I think as a framing for these three shows, please keep in mind that communication, we think communication is people’s ability to listen to what we’re saying to them. Communication is the response we get, so it’s our ability to communicate in a language that they understand. I want to frame that right from the beginning because if you take that message right through these three shows, I think you’ll get a lot more from it.
Barbara: Absolutely, I was just thinking Matt, as you were saying this. You could really apply this to marriage as well, to any relationship actually. Really, communication is a tricky one and I think the hardest part is that we all feel like we’re being clear, when often to the other person we’re not being clear or we’re dancing around the communication that we need to have.
Setting up for success
To kick it off, I thought for today’s show I really want to delve into this idea of, step one really with this is setting up for success from minute one. I know we’ve talked a lot about processes and setting up tasks, etc. We’ve talked about the logistics of setting up tasks, the project management systems, the steps, all that sort of thing.
But what about the communication around setting up for success with the task? So I want to just give a little live example of a question we got in our forum from one of our members which was interesting, where she was saying, “I’m not quite getting what I need from my VA in terms of my branding”- so images and landing pages and things like that. She said, “My question is, should I create a video, I’m very specific about my brand and I’m very particular about it. Should I create a video explaining how I feel about my brand and how I want it to look and feel?” For me the obvious answer was, absolutely! Because obviously the implication there is you haven’t had that discussion yet with your staff member, so how would they know, there’s a bit of mind reading there.
I’m going to challenge you Matt, in your experience with coaching people and also managing a lot of virtual teams yourself, how do you feel people should attack this particular setting up for success area?
Matt: Well, let’s use this example that you’ve given on ‘should I or shouldn’t I create a video around the branding?’ I think it’s really important to understand that there are three key communication styles; you’ve got visual, auditory and kinaesthetic styles of communication. So, if I’m trying to communication through speaking on how I want my brand to look, it’s always going to be a lot harder. But if I can show a video, which shows exactly the do’s and don’ts and how I want things positioned and the like, then the likelihood of the person receiving that video being able to succeed, increases massively. I think choosing the form of communication based on what you’re trying to get across is vitally important. So if something’s very visual, trying to use an auditory way of communicating to somebody is really, really challenging.
Going one step further with video, I think with your virtual teams, I think quite often, people don’t use the video function on Skype enough. Being able to physically see somebody whilst having a conversation, watching their reaction and response, actually ensuring that they’re present also makes a huge difference. All of us know that at times I’m on the phone, I could be doing two other things at once. Whereas having physical presence and actually observing and sitting with someone and seeing them can make a huge difference as well.
So in answer to this first is, with what I’m trying to communicate, is there a visual that’s needed here, is it okay in just an auditory way or is this something that I need somebody to do? If you think about the kinaesthetic piece of it, do I need to provide a quick little template and get them to actually write something as I’m teaching them so they can retain the learning here as well. I think it’s vitally important to understand those three forms of communication.
Communicate what failure looks like
Barbara: Yeah and also, I’m just thinking as you’re talking there, I know in episode three we actually delved into a whole episode on expectations management, where we talked quite a lot about how to set up, how to manage the expectations with your virtual teams or your staff member. One of the things I think I said in that episode was to also ‘communicate what failure looks like’. So, somewhere where I’ve had success myself, because sometimes you do these videos and processes and you still might not get what you’re looking for. Often I go a step further with that and I add a thing to say, “Now if you send back something where this font is not this size or this font, you’re going to upset me. It’s going to be wrong, so my suggestion is don’t do that and here’s the reason why. I’m very particular about my brand for this, this and this reason. For me it’s very, very important that I feel like I can let go of this to you and that you feel empowered to do a great job by yourself. So if there’s any areas at all that are unclear or you’re feeling like you can’t achieve, you need to let me know straight away”. So it’s like, here’s what it looks like but here’s also why it’s so important to get this right and here are the things that can go wrong.
Matt: I think that’s brilliant because, it’s that last part that I think is really, really great and here is how I can see things go wrong.
Matt: We love to think that every system or process we put together will just ensure a smooth running business, but that’s not reality and the reason that so many people fail to let go is because their people don’t understand the exceptions and how to deal with the exceptions and so, the natural response is, it’s quicker and easier if I just do it myself. Whereas in the communication that you just described to everyone Barb, is that this is why it’s really, really important and these are the points that are critically important and this is where it can go wrong. But it was in the last thing that you said also, which was, “If you feel that you can’t succeed with this, have a conversation with me”, you’ve made it safe for them to go and ask you a question. I think that’s very clever communication, everyone really needs to take note of that.
Barbara: I think where I learnt that actually and this is a good little anecdote for the listeners as well. Where did I learn that? Through trial and error myself, I found that I was being very clear, I had a lot of processes and I know that some of our clients would feel like this. It can cause a bit of frustration because you feel like, yes I’ve done all that but the step that’s missing is to show them where the holes are. Because your experience, you’ve done it yourself many times and I just find where I get the most success is when I say, “Now typically, when you first start doing this task, what happened to me was, I noticed that if I put the fonts here or if I just forgot to pick the right font, I noticed when it shows up on Facebook that it cuts the top off, or whatever”, and you show the actual nuances and especially when you’re on video like you suggested, their eyes light up and go, oh, I see what you mean, oh my god. I can make a mess of this so easily even if I’m following the process and I think that’s key.
Slowdown in order to speed up
Matt: One thing I want all the listeners to understand in what Barbara’s saying is, there’s an element of slowing down in order to speed up here. It’s taking the time to take your VA or your team member through the steps of how you want them to do it, through the steps of where it can go wrong and ensuring that they’ve got a deep level of understanding. When you do this, whilst it’s not guaranteed success, it certainly sets them up for success and enables you to let go a lot easier and I think this is an area where so many business owners bypass because we’re so busy. We’ve got so many things to do, I want to be able to just hand this to someone and they deal with it. You can get them to that point, believe me and it just takes a little bit of time up front in setting them up to succeed, so that when you give them that task, the second, third or fourth time and beyond, they know what’s expected of them, they know how to do it and it just gets done.
Communication must happen regardless of experience
Barbara: You know, what’s interesting as well and I want to add to this too Matt, is just listening to what you were saying, sometimes feedback that we get as well from clients that are new to this or, they often say, “I just don’t have time to train somebody, I don’t have time for this, I want somebody experienced”. Now what’s interesting to me about that is I have had both types of people on my team or I’ve hired people who are experienced and I’ve also hired people who are not experienced where I’ve trained them myself and that sort of thing. But even when somebody is experienced, let’s say, at whatever it is, they’re still not experienced with your business, with your mindset and with how you like things done. Even my experienced people need me to communicate with them in this way initially, in the set up phase of the first, even the first two to three months of working together, until we get our flow together and they sort of see how I like things done and how both our communication styles are working together. I think sometimes people just want to run away from it and say, the person lacks experience. But this is actually not totally to do with experience; communication happens regardless of experience, would be what I think anyway. What are your thoughts there Matt?
Matt: One hundred percent agree! You’ve got to remember back to the first time you did something, how many mistakes you made and understand that in setting them up, what you’re trying to do is bottle up the mistakes you’ve made over a period of time and ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes. But in actual fact, the only way to learn is through mistakes and so the goal is to minimize them and get your people up and running as quick as possible.
Barbara: Yeah and here’s a funny story actually, I want to share this story with everyone because obviously, we come on this podcast and we always sound like we know exactly what we’re doing and we never make these mistakes. But just recently I made a massive mistake with this! One of my most experienced people on my team, someone who, she’s in the Philippines, she’s amazing, she’s like my right had woman and I even ask her for advice, we talk about business and stuff like that. But because she has so much experience with business, I sort of forgot this little step myself and we had an issue the other day where she made a massive mistake and I just was so in my head, so irate about it because I was thinking, she’s so experienced how could she make this mistake?
The reality was, I had just assumed that because she was experienced she would know our process and how to iterate that process and I actually had not sat down with her. I had given her the process, I had not sat down with her and said to her, now if this happens, here’s how to handle it and if this thing happens in this particular process we did have happen to her and I wasn’t available and she didn’t know how to deal with it because I hadn’t, there was no specific process for dealing with this particular iteration that might happen. So it can happen with even the most experienced people, you have to train them, everyone that comes into your business, on how you run it.
Matt: Absolutely. So if I was just to summarize, to give everyone a sequence here on what we’ve been talking about, the first thing is, number one, you want to spend some time with your virtual assistant, setting them up with what you need them to do. When you go through that process you need to emphasize why this is important. The next thing you need to get clear on is when are there milestones or deadlines and then, the next step after that is, where could this go wrong. Not just, don’t just talk about this in a theoretical manner, actually show them. If you do this, it could do this and like Barb was saying with the example about Facebook. And then, I think the last part is then emphasizing that it’s really, really important to understand that you’re very precise with this for these reasons. Like Barbara was talking about earlier and I think if you follow that sequence each time, number one, you’re setting your VA up to succeed, number two, what you’re doing is you’re actually getting greater clarity in your own mind on what it is specifically that you want and thirdly is, you’re now creating a replicable process that ensures that over time this person can do that task for you time and time again.
Barbara: Matt, I’m going to add a fourth step, because I know that we discussed this before. But it is a vital step, the fourth step I feel, and it’s something I’ve implemented more recently, really works. You have to also set up how you want your virtual assistant to report back to you on milestones, progress, roadblocks and results. Because if you don’t set up as part of your process here about setting this task up, you’re telling them but you’re not telling them how you need to be communicated back with because some people love to be communicated with ongoing, updates quite ongoing. I’m one of those people, I want them to give me quick updates in Asana, I like to see it happening.
Others only want an update once a week, but they want a thorough update and they don’t want to hear the problems, you know, if the problem hasn’t been communicated earlier. So, it’s about setting up your communication back and forth then on a task. Once the task has been created for success then the communication on the progress of the task, the milestones and the results of the task is vitally important and I think most people are missing that step.
Clarify how you want to be communicated with
Matt: It’s so true and I think, it’s understanding what’s right for you here, as Barbara was saying. Some people it might be daily updates on where things are at, other people are happy to understand that if this is the deadline, unless we’re off track, I just want to see it get done. It’ll be very, very different, it’s a very personal thing but I think clearly articulating that to your team is vitally important. Because otherwise, if you’re the person that needs daily updates and you’re not getting them, you’re going to get frustrated and if you’re the person that doesn’t want daily updates and that’s what you’re getting, again you’re going to get frustrated.
Matt: I think the clarity there will enhance speed and ensure that the relationship strengthens as well.
Barbara: Now we have had feedback from some clients who have, not complaints but feedback, saying just results, I’m not getting the feedback and when we’ve approached the VA to discuss it, sometimes it’s so fascinating, sometimes some of the VA’s will say, “But she’s really busy and I don’t want to be hammering her all day with Skype messages”. Some of them also try and sort it out by themselves, they don’t want to be bothering the client, and I’ve said to them, but maybe your client wants to be bothered, have you asked them. Because you guys haven’t had this conversation about, for me in my business I’m actually available all day on Skype. I’m occasionally on podcasts and calls, but typically I’m at my desk and building systems and things like that, so they can ping me on Skype. Other people might be in meetings all day long and they don’t want to be pinged on Skype all day because they don’t have time. So it’s about setting those boundaries with each other, around the communication channels.
Matt: I can give a differing view there as well because I’m the opposite, I’m probably more unavailable than I am available to my team.
Matt: So we’ve set up various Slack channels, I’ll jump on Slack a couple of times a day and see what’s happening there. But what I’ve set up with my team is what I call the Bat Signal, which is if somethings urgent and I’ve defined urgent to them as well, they send me an SMS. They’ve all got access to be able to SMS, all my team, all around the world and they know that if they need a quick response from me on something they’ll SMS me because that’s where I’ll probably pick it up first. They’ve got to give me some clear communication, if they abuse that Bat Signal they’ll hear about it as well. It’s really important that you set up what is urgent and what can wait. But they’ve got that ability to enable them to keep moving on task as well as getting input from me where they feel they need to.
Barbara: And not feeling afraid to contact you. They know the context within which they can contact you and when not to, when they have to deal with it themselves, that’s great. I love the Bat Signal, that’s fantastic, I might implement that myself. The Bat Signal.
Wrapping things up
Matt: I think in summary, if you just look at this, on the first of three podcasts that are around communication, it’s vitally important that you set your VA up for success on tasks. It’s vitally important that you understand that one form of communication is not going to fit every single met task or what’s going on and I think that, the last thing is, you need to make sure that you get clarity on how they are going to report to you so that the flow of work can continue and each person on both sides, you and your VA, feel that they’re getting what they need to move things forward.
Barbara: Yeah, that’s great and really sets us up now for episode two of this podcast, where we’re going to deal with, let’s say assuming you’ve done this step, let’s say it’s still not working, then the next challenge is how do you give effective feedback so that you still continue to get success and we’re going to deal with that in the next show.
Make sure you guys tune back in for episode two of this really important topic, it’s really going to help you a lot with any of your staff, be they virtual or in the office with you.
Matt, we’ll get ready for the next show and listeners be sure to follow us on iTunes, you can subscribe to the show and if you’re finding this show is helping you then please do share this show, because we’re really sharing some vital tips that people are missing here when it comes to virtual teams in particular, so we would love you to share the show far and wide.
Matt: Fantastic, have a great day Barb and we’ll get ready for the next episode.
Barbara: Thanks Matt, bye.
Thank you for listening to the Virtual Success Show. If you found this show helpful, take a moment to share it with a friend so that we all grow together. Find out more about the inside scoop in outsourcing success by going to our website, virtualsuccessshow.com. Until next time! Thanks for listening!
Barbara Turley is the Founder & CEO of The Virtual Hub, a company that specializes in recruiting, training and managing superstar ‘Virtual Assistants’ in the social media, digital marketing and systems automation space.
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