The exclusive use of virtual business methods, fostered by our shared Covid experience, has challenged many leadership paradigms. Particularly hard hit are those processes that rely on interpersonal skills to develop trust and to cultivate the collaboration necessary for teams to drive change, take ownership and improve results.
Leaders who have traditionally used their relational skills to strengthen their personal connections with those they lead, to encourage open, transparent communication, and to better understand what emotions are motivating the actions of team members, can find virtual communication to be lacking. The opportunity to leverage their empathy and emotional intelligence can feel constrained by the absence of physical presence. They understand that motivating teams to deliver improvements relies on each team member’s awareness of being appreciated and making a difference. This emotional edge is what drives change action.
Leaders can preserve their effectiveness during times when virtual connections dominate by practicing these 3 behaviors:
- Exercise active listening. Focus on hearing the spoken and unspoken message instead of rehearsing your response. Recognize when body language is inconsistent with the words spoken. When reading an employee’s emotion is difficult, ask the person to describe how he or she feels about the information being shared and why they feel this way. Then, when the dialogue concludes, summarize what you heard the individual say and ask if your summary of the message is accurate.
- Demonstrate caring. Ensure that your expressions of caring are genuine in delivery and tone; for people to know that they are appreciated, words of thanks should include specifics about what was done well. Mentor employees who have earned opportunities to help them succeed. Seek balance between the head and the heart, modulating intensity and compassion. Realize that those you lead may not share your same drive to succeed or your willingness to sacrifice to achieve a goal.
- Control reactions to an employee’s message. When listening to an employee’s issue, strive to react on two levels – to the facts and to the expressed emotions, needs, etc. If you can’t interpret the emotions conveyed in the message, then ask clarifying questions until you do, paying attention to your own emotions in the process. Seek feedback on your reactions from trusted employees, or from a mentor who can effectively describe their impact on others.
As work methods continue to evolve, leaders who practice these behaviors will always be in demand.
How are you leveraging your relational skills in the virtual business environment?