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Dr Amelia Reigstad: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Interview With David Liu

Practice two-way dialogue and actively listen — Practicing two-way dialogue and allowing for feedback is a part of effective communication. We can’t have one without the other. Ensuring we are active listening during conversations is also imperative. Listen to understand, not to reply is a great mantra.

We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Amelia Reigstad, Ph.D.

Dr. Amelia Reigstad, Ph.D. is a communication consultant, coach and university professor with nearly two decades of industry experience. She has spoken on a global scale at many professional events and conferences and has taught a variety of PR and communications courses across the U.S., Canada, Europe and the U.K. With a passion for helping others, she consults and educates business professionals on the importance of understanding gender differences and communication styles and how this leads to more effective communication and productivity in the workplace. As the founder of The Women Empowerment Series, she inspires and encourages women to use their voice to initiate change.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I am originally from Vancouver, B.C. Canada, with a background and education in public relations and communications. Through working in corporate settings to running my own PR consultancy and educating up and coming professionals as a university professor, my passion lies with helping others to find their communication purpose and communicate as their authentic selves. Fast forward and I now call Minneapolis, Minnesota home where I am a sought-after expert in gender and communication and work with organizations and individuals to increase effective communication in the workplace; both personally and professionally.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Probably the most interesting and unique story since I began my career was meeting “Cousin Eddie” from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at a fundraising event and playing pool with him in a friend’s basement. I am a horrible pool player, but he made it fun!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be fearlessly authentic. Bravely be you.” I truly believe in the importance of communicating authentically and having honest, transparent conversations so this quote resonates a lot with me. Life is too short (another great life lesson quote) so for me, being myself in all faucets of my life is incredibly important.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have had a lot of mentors along the way but the most significant was a colleague who I worked with at one of my very first teaching positions at a Canadian university. Terri Smolar was a firecracker and she saw in me, likely what I didn’t see at the time; a passion and love for knowledge and a goal of sharing that with up and coming PR professionals. She is no longer with us, but I hear her voice in my head ever so often about continuing to strive and accomplish my goals. My parents are also great mentors. My mother is my editor, proof-reader and I run pretty much everything by her. She also deserves an honorary doctorate degree for all the drafts she read of my dissertation. My father makes me laugh and his carefree, live every moment to the fullest philosophy of life is what keeps me grounded.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity, but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

By having a team physically together, we are able to have face-to-face meetings, work in groups, have conversations over lunch, pop by someone’s cubicle or grab coffee. Being together enhances workplace culture and allows for opportunity to build organic relationships.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

Communicating effectively in the workplace can be challenging enough so when we are working remotely and don’t have our entire team in the same space, it leaves room for miscommunication, lack of employee engagement and there isn’t an opportunity to build relationships. Having the ability to build relationships through conversations is key to effective communication and it’s not quite the same when we are communicating virtually.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be authentic — It’s so incredibly important to be your authentic self when communicating. The good, the bad and the ugly. If we can’t be our authentic selves in conversations, then we really aren’t communicating effectively.

Maintain a visual presence — Keep those videos on! Maintaining a visual presence and keeping our cameras on during meetings is really important when engaging with others. It’s hard to have a conversation when you are speaking to a name in a Zoom box.

Be personable and engaged — Being personable and engaging with colleagues is critical when working remotely in order to build relationships. A demonstrated, genuine interest puts colleagues at ease and makes people feel a part of the conversation.

Practice two-way dialogue and actively listen — Practicing two-way dialogue and allowing for feedback is a part of effective communication. We can’t have one without the other. Ensuring we are active listening during conversations is also imperative. Listen to understand, not to reply is a great mantra.

Know your technology — We’ve all been at remote working for some time now especially with the global pandemic so knowing your technology and the platforms your organization typically uses is key. You don’t have to be an expert, but a basic understanding will certainly go a long way in communicating effectively with your team.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

I work for myself and do not have employees but there certainly have been challenges with technology, distant learning with my children and such. It’s been a balancing act.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

I really like the breakout rooms in Zoom. These have been life saving for different training workshops I facilitate. It creates a more personal experience and allows for organic conversations amongst colleagues.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

A virtual assistant that understands communications and has the ability to not only schedule meetings but also post to social media, make coffee, walk the dog, write proposals, deliver lunch, and maybe do some laundry. I’d also like to be able to transport myself easily and randomly appear in a colleague’s office for meetings.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

I like the idea of unified communication but also don’t want to see the way we interact get lost in translation. Face-to-face communication and human interaction is still so important in effective communication.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

I can definitely see VR/AR and Mixed Reality being useful in bringing teams together in a virtual space as we don’t know how long employees will be working remotely, but I am also fearful of technology overload. There is plenty of research being conducted about Zoom fatigue, so it is a bit concerning.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

Yes, we are humans and need interaction. Technology is great and we all certainly have come to rely on it even more than we ever thought possible but there is something to be said about shared experiences. We need that and I don’t believe technology will ever be able to completely compare.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

Everything has changed! I really dug my heels in at first and was completely resistant to pivoting online but if my business was going to succeed during a global pandemic, then I needed to meet my clients where they were at and that’s online. I take great pride in facilitating workshops and training sessions that are engaging; I like to be face-to-face and be able to read a room. It’s not quite the same but many of my offerings and interactions have moved to an online environment and are presented via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

Yes! Keeping your camera on is incredibly important and try and put yourself in their shoes. Be empathetic. Giving and receiving constructive criticism isn’t easy so anticipating and even planning their reaction so you can best adjust is important. I really believe in the significance of understanding team members communication styles so that you can communicate more effectively and mitigate miscommunication. Knowing ones’ style when providing feedback is just as critical.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

This is really important isn’t it? Scheduling time for happy hours or quick check-in points during the day that isn’t work-related can do wonders for a team that is not physically together. Do something fun! Have weekly trivia. Engage in conversations about plans for the weekend. Most importantly, celebrate the wins. And I mean all of them. The little ones’ and the big ones.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Gender Equality in the Workplace. I recently launched The Women Empowerment Series which encourages women to use their voice to initiate change. This is a movement that I hope will continue to reach women around the globe.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn or visit www.ameliareigstad.com

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.

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David Liu

David Liu

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David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication