Insight & Analysis

The big mistakes that make virtual meetings fail, and how to fix them

Published: Apr 2020

Working from home, virtual meetings and online communications have shot up the agenda as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts businesses globally. Without the right verbal skills, individuals and their organisations could be risking a lot. We asked a communications expert to advise on how to ensure successful dialogues.

Virtual meeting on laptop

For the majority of professionals, virtual meetings are now the ‘new normal’ as COVID-19 persists. But making virtual business work isn’t always as easy as jumping on a video conference and expecting business as usual. Now, more than ever, sharper verbal behaviour skills are needed, says Tony Hughes, CEO of Huthwaite.

Research carried out by the firm – specialists in sales, negotiations and communications – has revealed the most common errors people are making that can lead communications to break down. From irritating and demotivating colleagues, to putting business deals at risk, Hughes says “bad verbal behaviour” should be addressed now.

“Whilst we may all think we’re pretty good at communicating online or virtually, the likelihood is that you are frequently making errors that are off-putting to whoever it is you’re speaking to,” notes Hughes. “It’s simple, yet many of our verbal behaviour habits actually work against us. This can be costly, especially in the current climate where often, big budget, complex projects are being conducted over the phone or online.”

To address the needs of treasurers, Hughes offers a rundown of the top mistakes made time and time again when trying to strike a deal or building relations online, as well as some advice around how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Avoid a push verbal interaction – aim for a ‘pull’

Voice, data and video over IP have given us the power (used properly) to interact fairly fully and to practise plenty of the behaviours that are used more often by successful communicators. These are well-known techniques given names like ‘Bringing In’, ‘Testing Understanding’, ‘Summarising’ and ‘Building’.

The same technologies can also help us to avoid persistent ‘Shutting Out’, (a behaviour linked to low success in many contexts) if those technologies are used with care, and the communicator remains alert.

“On a customer conference call, have one of your team lead the conference, or your part of it, and have another colleague on the lookout for who is itching to ask a question, build on a proposal or challenge a claim to ensure the customer feels you are ‘listening’ fully to their needs,” advises Hughes.

Avoid the verbal ‘poker face’

Some people avoid emotive language in business, feeling it isn’t appropriate to express their emotions when it comes to striking a deal or communicating with their team. This can lead to ambiguity and a lack of clarity. “Be clear. If you’re disappointed with an offer or a situation, say so. Likewise, if you’re pleased with how the negotiations are moving or something your team has achieved, don’t be afraid to express this,” says Hughes. Indeed he adds, sharing your feelings in these scenarios is powerful verbal behaviour as nobody can refute your feelings, and it can create a more cooperative environment to strike a deal that benefits your needs or motivates a team to complete a task to the best of their ability.

Avoid the counterproposal

Research shows that successful communicators only make half the number of counterproposals than most. However, many professionals are still falling into this trap, even among the most experienced. “Negotiating is about listening and understanding the needs of the other party, whilst maintaining a strong stance,” says Hughes. “By immediately counteroffering it shows that you’re not listening to the other party – which is an immediate turn off, meaning they are less likely to be flexible when it comes to striking that all-important deal and agreeing to prioritise your work.”

Don’t demonstrate irritating verbal behaviours

There are a number of behaviours that work to immediately irritate people, from self-praising declarations, such as using the words ‘fair’, ‘reasonable’ and other presumptuous behaviour, to telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’, indicating you may not have been before. “Steer clear of this use of language, it can be damaging to any relationship you are building and may put whoever you’re communicating with on the defensive,” Hughes warns.

Don’t talk for talking’s sake

Perhaps the biggest and most important hurdle to overcome is to sit back and listen. “Digest the information you’re receiving properly and take time to really understand the position,” he advises. This will provide you with an opportunity to explore the underlying objectives of who you’re talking to. You can also use this to build incisive questions that may create doubt in their minds about their position or the point they’re trying to make. “In a negotiation, this is particularly important – doubt leads to movement, and movement is what you’re trying to create as a negotiator.”

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