5 Techniques for “Reading” People in Virtual Meetings

A Virtual, Global Culture

It is rare that I meet my clients face to face. The majority of our relationships are started virtually — either through social media, email, or the phone. This doesn’t seem odd to me, in fact it’s very natural. Recently I attended a convention with a client who was exhibiting, and when we met at the airport, it was the first time we had met face to face.

It wasn’t until we had shared this with another at the conference and as they introduced us to other people they commented, “Can you believe that this is the first time they have actually met?” It was then that I realized that for some, this is still a new idea.

It also made me realize that it was because we had a solid virtual relationship that the in-person relationship was easy and comfortable.

The fact is that our economy isn’t just a local, or even national one anymore. As our world becomes smaller and our reach more global, the virtual business relationship is becoming more commonplace.

Challenges of Meeting Virtually

For those who are great at selling and connecting with people in person, doing so over the phone or virtually can be a challenge that leaves them feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the unknown. They are used to getting their cues on how well they are being received by body language, or how someone’s office is laid out.

But when you can’t see the other person- your clues are gone and you have to rely on your instinct. For them, it is much like going from driving down a well-lit city street with GPS to driving down a dusty country road with only one headlight and no map, but just the directions from the locals to turn at the big rock. Fear not, just because our world has become more virtual doesn’t mean that you have to operate blindly.

Here are five techniques to help you cope with the challenges of meeting and building relationships in virtual settings?

1. Listen for the Long Term — Be Genuine

First, you have to tweak your mindset and examine your intent. Are you driven by curiosity about the other person and what makes them tick, or just trying to move in for the sale or referral? Are you really listening, or are you just not talking while at the same time trying to think about what you will say next? Those who seek first to understand are the ones who will be understood.

Does this mean your calls and conversations shouldn’t have a goal and objective or agenda? No, but the destination is not the most important part- the journey is. It is the other person, not you, who needs to set the pace and path to your objective. Your job is to read the clues and steer.

2. Use Multiple Short Questions

Never assume that you know where you are and where they are. Remember, you are steering in the dark and they are the ones who are controlling the gas and brake. So you have to continuously check that you are both on the same page.

3. Don’t Imagine How They Feel — Ask

For example, on a recent call with a prospect they asked me about my experiences within their industry. After I had given them a few examples, there was a long pause. Pauses in a conversation make some people nervous and they feel compelled to fill the empty space with more words. Instead, I asked, ” Is that long pause because you are taking notes, or because I have totally missed the mark and this isn’t relevant?” The prospect laughed and said it was because they were taking notes and then offered more information about themselves.

4. Listen for the Eye Roll

On a coaching call, a client asked what they needed to do next. When I told them, they answered with a monotone “Okay…” My response; “Now when I ask my husband to take out the trash and he says okay to me like that, it usually accompanied by a shrug and a rolling of the eyes and means that he is just agreeing with me but really doesn’t want to do it. Did I just hear your eyes roll?”

They chuckled and admitted it to be true. I was then able to ask them a few more questions about why they didn’t want to do it and what the real challenge to getting it done was. I could have just taken their okay and moved on, but then would have missed the underlining issue.

5. Don’t Lean Too Much on Buyer Personas

There are both pros and cons to using buyer personae to help navigate the virtual relationship. Remember that curiosity needs to drive your relationships. If you are only trying to put the other person into a neat little box or bucket, you fall into stereotyping that will choke the relationship. Everyone is a dynamic individual, and there idea that you can create an archetype that will account for every aspect of their personality is a dangerous myth.

A buyer persona is a tool to help you to understand and learn. In establishing and developing a virtual relationship, buyer personas are most useful when you use them as a map to help you steer in the dark. Built with science and methodology, you can use the clues to help steer your curiosity and adapt your own style accordingly.

I hope this article added some good information to light your way to virtual meetings. All comments welcome — what are your tips for meeting “in the dark”?

Photo credit: ThisReidWrites