There’s no way around this: you need to work harder at listening when you’re not face to face. Generally, your people will tell you everything is fine….even when it isn’t.
For example, you may check in about progress towards a particular deadline and people will say that they’re on top of it.
Maybe they are. But maybe not.
Asking about progress may be fine for some people, but for others you may need to be much more specific. Based on the person’s response, you can continue to ask questions until you receive satisfactory answers.
A good listener needs to “listen between the lines”, that is, pay attention so carefully that you’ll ask the right questions in order to get accurate answers. The quality of your questions makes a big difference.
We speak at a pace of around about 125-150 words a minute, but our capacity for listening is a whopping 400-800 words per minute. That is the basis for why it’s hard for people to be good listeners: other things “fill the space” when you’re listening but not fully paying attention. With this in mind:
+ Eliminate all distractions when you are listening. Don’t look at your phone, check email, or read through a document. Focus on the person who is speaking!
+ Video technology can help, but I’ve been on plenty of video calls where participants are still answering email while participating.
+ Seek clarification. If someone isn’t clear in their delivery, ask them to say it differently. Alternatively, you can paraphrase what you think they said to confirm that you heard correctly.
+ If you are delivering the message, ask the other person to repeat back what you said to ensure that what you said was understood.
+ Use your gut. If the other person’s tone of voice or pace is different from usual, this may alert you that something may be “off”.
Listening is hard work. It takes discipline and focus to get good at it and mastery can take years. For now, though, if you are managing a remote team, it’s well worth putting in the extra effort.