Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

We need a shared context in order to create a “shared meaning” over something.

When somebody shares information with you, and you don’t have the relevant background context, you will fill in the blanks in order to perceive this information as ‘”meaningful” to you. But unfortunately, we aren’t really good in reading other’s minds. And when you are missing context, it’s easy to have some misunderstandings. Especially when you are working in various time-zones. Research found that “virtual teammates are 2.5 times more likely to perceive mistrust, incompetence, broken commitments, and bad decision making with distant colleagues, than those who are co-located. Worse, they report taking five to 10 times longer to address their concerns!” (HBR source)

So keep “hanlon’s razor” into mind: always assume ignorance before malice if you have any misunderstandings! It suggest a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behavior and its consequences. Statements of this kind are known as philosophical razors.

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How to inform your virtual team-mate about the context you are working in right now?

Here are some tips to restore the shared context, and avoid common misunderstandings!

TIP 1 – Install “Tree Time”

Instant messaging can be very annoying when you are working on a tight deadline. Sometimes you just need some uninterrupted work time. At Zapier, they call this “Tree Time”. It’s a great way to let your colleague know that you don’t have the time to chat right now, without being rude. (For more of there tips on remote working, check out their free e-book!)

TIP 2 – Use gifs and emojis in your written communications

You really need to let go of the idea that they are unprofessional. Emoticons and even GIFS can help you overcome the emotional barrier of written communication. How else can you transfer written communication with the emotion and nuance of spoken language? Just give it a try!

TIP 3 – Share your emotions

When you are working in a co-located team, you will notice if somebody is more quiet than usual, if somebody is stressed out about a situation, etc. We are good at picking up those signals. But when working virtually, you lose this kind of context! One way to make up for it is just to share more than you would normally do in a chatbox or email. Share what you are doing, thinking, how you feel, and ask your colleagues to do the same.

TIP 4 – Think before you send!

Avoid Hanlon’s razor being used on you! Always (video)call if you have the tendency to do this.

Good luck with those new habits!

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