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The #1 Rule of Remote Collaboration: Assume Positive Intent

My fully-remote team is trying to get really good at digital communication. We frequently share tips and best practices for better/more impactful digital communication internally.

But let’s be honest: people are generally bad at this stuff.

The wording and tone of digital communication is incredibly important. We try to choose our words carefully — but our customers, contractors, and vendors may not. And so much can get lost in translation with digital comms.

The golden rule we’ve found for remote collaboration is actually guidance for those on the receiving end of communication, and that is:

Assume positive intent.

Let’s unpack that.

What it means to assume positive intent

If you run into the likely scenario that something a customer or team member says rubs you the wrong way… take a step back and assume that they mean what they’re saying in the best possible way. (Because that’s usually true.)

Where we’d have facial expressions and body language when communicating in person, instead we often have just a screen and blinking cursor for digital messages.

Try to read their message with the most generous and benevolent possible interpretation of what they were trying to get across.

If you’re catching a “tone,” it’s probably not about you

If the sender seems a little prickly or short, more often than not, it has nothing to do with you.

Maybe they just got a speeding ticket. Maybe their boss is putting extra pressure on them. Maybe they were next in line at Starbucks and had to wrap their message up faster than usual.

Cut them as much Slack as possible, and reply with positivity and kindness.

If a message still irks you…

If you’ve read a message over and over, and it still is raising your blood pressure… pick up the phone. If it’s really important, jump on a video call. This is the fastest way to diffuse tension.

If you have to respond over email, Slack, or text, choose your words carefully. It’s critical to think about how your message will be read by your audience — especially though a lens of empathy and considering how it will make them feel.

Digital communications are forever, so don’t say something you will regret. Consider having a colleague or friend give your message a once over to wordsmith if it’s a particularly important message.

Remote collaboration: what’s working for you?

What rules of thumb do you have for virtual teams and collaborating over a digital medium? Any lessons learned, or things that you’re struggling with? Let’s hear them in the comments!

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