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Webucator's Free Virtual Communications for Managers Tutorial

Lesson: Virtual Communication Basics

Welcome to our free Virtual Communications for Managers tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Virtual Communications for Managers course.

Virtual communications are any communications that do not take place in a face-to-face environment.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn about the Communication Model.
  • Learn to value the importance of communication.
  • Learn to recognize the impact of miscommunication.

The Communication Model

The Communication Model is a standard description of communication between two people. It demonstrates that communication is a loop with six components, as described below:

  1. The sender, from whom a message originates.
  2. The receiver, to whom the message is sent.
  3. The message, which is the information the sender wants to give to the receiver.
  4. Feedback, which is a response sent from the receiver to the sender.
  5. Noise, which is any external disturbance that may interfere with accurate delivery of the message.
  6. Filters, which modify the formation or reception of the message.

When examining virtual communications, we include one more component:

  1. Media, which is the method by which the information is carried from one party to another.

We will now examine each of these components more thoroughly.

The Sender

The sender is the person who intends to deliver a message to one or more people. The sender initiates the conversation and sets the stage for how the communication will take place.

The Receiver

The receiver is the person who receives the initial message. The receiver must decide whether to respond to the message or not.

The Message

The message relays information. Both the content of the message and the method in which it is delivered impact the quality of the communication.

For example, a message spoken over a choppy phone line may result in a misunderstanding that is equally as problematic as a sender who communicates only part of the information over a clear line.

If the information is not delivered appropriately, it is simply meaningless data. All messages should be meaningful.

Feedback

Feedback is a response from a receiver back to the sender, and it tells the sender:

  1. The message was received.
  2. The message was received correctly.

Some communications are intended simply to broadcast information. Examples include an announcement or a warning. These may not require feedback, particularly if they were sent to a large group of recipients.

Most messages benefit from feedback. Feedback may vary as follows:

  1. Feedback may be a simple grunt or an "OK."
  2. Feedback may be a full paraphrasing of what was received.
  3. Feedback may request clarification if the message was not clearly understood.

When a sender receives feedback, he or she should:

  1. Reply to a paraphrasing of the original message with a confirmation or with clarification.
  2. Reply to a request for clarification with more information.

In good communication, the message-feedback loop is repeated until both participants are satisfied that accurate communication has taken place.

Noise

Noise, as it relates to communication, is not exclusive to sound. There are many kinds of noise, including:

  1. Environmental conditions.
  2. Daily activities.
  3. Mental distractions.

In most situations, there will be noise. It is both the sender's and receiver's responsibility to be aware of the noise in their environment and to do what is necessary to overcome that noise. This may mean:

  1. Moving into another room.
  2. Turning off or setting aside electronic devices.
  3. Pausing a project.

In all cases, the effects of noise can be minimized by focusing attention on the conversation and speaker.

Filters

Filters are personal values and ideas that modify the formation or reception of a message. Filters include:

  1. Personal biases, including preferences and values.
  2. Emotions based on past experiences and traditions.
  3. Self-centeredness or self-preservation.

While some filters, particularly emotion-based filters, may negatively affect communication, not all filters are bad. Healthy filters help us discern between right and wrong, and are a part of our evaluation process that we build through experiences and education. The key to good communication is to understand filters and manage them intentionally. A good communicator will:

  1. Be aware of his or her personal biases.
  2. Consider how his or her values and preferences affect the delivery or interpretation of a message.
  3. Control the emotional impact and defensiveness triggered by filters.
  4. Respect the other person's perspective, whether or not he or she agrees with it.

Media

Media are tools used to deliver a message. Media includes all devices and transportation systems on which the message travels, including such things as:

  1. A phone.
  2. A phone line or network.
  3. A fax machine.
  4. Email.
  5. Instant messenger.
  6. Satellite transmissions.
  7. Traditional mail.
  8. The paper and pen used to hand write a message.
  9. A website.
  10. An animated graphic on a website.

In virtual communications, the medium selected for a message may have a great impact on the quality of the communication between two or more people, as we will learn later in this course.

Virtual Communication

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

Respond to the following questions about virtual communication.

  1. List the seven components of virtual communication.
  2. Match the following terms with their definitions.
    1. Terms:
      1. Feedback
      2. Filters
      3. Noise
      4. Medium
      5. Message
    2. Definitions:
      1. Modifies the way messages are delivered or interpreted.
      2. Distracts, and may cause messages to be received incorrectly.
      3. A tool used to deliver a message.
      4. Tells the sender a message has been received correctly.
      5. Information sent to a receiver.

Solution:

  1. The seven components of communication are:
    1. The sender
    2. The recipient
    3. The message
    4. Feedback
    5. Noise
    6. Filters
    7. Media
  2. The correct term/definition matches are:
      1. A and I
      2. B and A
      3. C and G
      4. D and H
      5. E and J

Virtual Communication - Personal Application

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.
  1. Think about an important phone conversation you have had with another person who was continually interrupted by loud background noises, such as traffic, children, or music or who was hard to hear because of those noises.
    1. How did the interruptions affect the conversation?
    2. How did you feel about it?
    3. Did you notice how the phone distorted the sounds?
  2. The next time you are on the phone, listen to the sounds around you. Is your environment affecting the conversation?

The Importance of Communication

Imagine trying to run a business without communication. There would be no way to:

  1. Describe to an employee what their job is.
  2. Instruct an employee on how to do their work.
  3. Correct or commend an employee when they do something wrong or right.
  4. Converse with customers or vendors.

It would be chaotic to say the least.

Communication between humans within a social group is as essential as breathing, whether that group is a family, a society, or a business. While this seems obvious, poor communication abounds. Communication can be problematic if it does not deliver the intended message.

Departments and organizations benefit when managers ensure communication is:

  1. Of good quality.
  2. Available to all staff.
  3. Not geographically dependent.

Staff working without information struggle with moments of chaos, and a manager's role is to prevent this from happening.

Water Cooler Communication

In a traditional business environment, much communication and exchange of information is done in random, informal conversations. We pass information on when we run into people:

  1. In the hallway.
  2. At lunch.
  3. In meetings.
  4. At the water cooler.

The following are facts that managers need to understand:

  1. Relationships are built on repeated exposure to others in both formal and informal settings.
  2. Careers are often nurtured through these relationships.
  3. Virtual staff can easily be forgotten because they are not able to participate in "water cooler" exchanges. This results in:
    1. Excellent employees being bypassed for job openings.
    2. Employees being unable to share their knowledge or concerns.
    3. Staff feeling unappreciated or forgotten.
    4. Staff leaving the company.

It is a manager's responsibility to make certain this does not happen by providing equal access to information for all staff, and liberal opportunities for interaction, whether local or virtual.

Something can be equal, but not identical. For example, 2 plus 5 is equal, but not identical, to 8 minus 1. It may not be possible to provide identical communication channels for your virtual employees as you would for employees who work in the same location, but it is possible to provide equal communication.

The Importance of Communication

Duration: 5 to 7 minutes.

Answer the following questions about communication.

  1. True or false?
    1. Identical communication should be provided to virtual staff and onsite staff to ensure everyone is treated the same.
    2. Companies benefit when equal communication is available to all staff.
    3. Hallway conversations are only available to onsite staff.
    4. Casual conversations contribute to relationships.
    5. Equal communication is the same as identical communication.
  2. Which of the following examples of communication are not available to virtual staff?
    1. Email.
    2. A boardroom meeting.
    3. Text messages.
    4. Lunch.
    5. A sticky note.
    6. A website.

Solution:

    1. False
    2. True
    3. True
    4. True
    5. False
  1. B, D, and E

The Importance of Communication - Personal Application

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.
  1. If you have ever worked from a home office or at a satellite location in your company, think about how easy or hard it was to get information for your job. If you have never experienced this, consider times when you have missed family reunions, gatherings of friends, or networking opportunities.
    1. Was information easily accessible?
    2. Did you have ways to communicate your needs or concerns to others?
    3. Did you ever miss out on important information?
  2. Pause to consider the easy availability of information when you are on site physically, compared to the challenge of getting complete information when you are in another location.
  3. Compare the access to information and opportunities for interaction available to your local staff compared to the access and opportunities available to your virtual staff.
    1. Is it equal?

The Impact of Miscommunication

How we present our messages is extremely important. A little change in how a message is delivered can determine whether we communicate well or whether something is miscommunicated. Listed are three examples of poor communication:

  1. Notice the difference a comma (or in verbal communication, a pause) can make:
    1. "Let's eat Grandma."
    2. "Let's eat, Grandma."
  2. Here is another example in which punctuation (or emphasis) changes meaning:
    1. "A woman, without her man, is nothing."
    2. "A woman: without her, man is nothing."
  3. Ambiguous pronouns may be confusing to the listener, as noted in these sentences:
    1. "John and Tyler run a business together and own a truck and a van. He drives it to work every day."
      1. Is the driver John or Tyler?
      2. Is the vehicle being driven the truck or the van?

If we are communicating directly to another person, we may be able to overcome these errors through voice intonation or body language, because communication is:

  1. 7 percent words.
  2. 38 percent intonation.
  3. 55 percent physical movements.

However, when communicating virtually, we often do not have our voice or bodies to compensate for the poor use of language structure, so we must be very careful about how we communicate.

There is always a risk that the medium we used to deliver virtual messages may add noise to the message. For example, a fax may not come through clearly, so an "8" may look like a "6". In the right situation, this could cause a terrible accounting error.

When using mediated communication, noise plays a critical factor in good communication. It is a sender's responsibility to make certain a message is delivered in such a way that it is almost impossible to misunderstand.

The Impact of Miscommunication

Duration: 15 to 20 minutes.

Read the following paragraph (from About.com) and follow the instructions.

  1. Dear John I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours Gloria
    1. Rewrite the letter to express love.
    2. Rewrite the letter to express disdain.

Solution:

    1. Dear John, I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy; will you let me be yours? Gloria
    2. Dear John, I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, and thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria

The Impact of Miscommunication - Personal Application

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.
    1. Referring back to the previous exercise, what does this tell you about verbal communication (written language, verbal emphasis)?
    2. Transfer this knowledge to other forms of communication, including body language, visual aids, etc. What seemingly small things can change a message? How might cultural differences play into this?