Tag Archives: professional conduct



It’s been a while since the last installment, but we really need to talk about another contagion in the world of email: The Habitual Forwarder.

This disease appears to be a strange mixture of compulsion and mechanics. These people cannot seem to resist the urge to hit that link to forward almost anything they receive. They are probably generous souls who truly believe in sharing information. They appreciate being remembered by the powers that be that send out the copious amounts of information via the electronic circuitry of the computer. They genuinely feel that everyone should experience that appreciation for themselves… or alternately, they share it because they feel that by forwarding indiscriminately all the emails they receive they have performed their due diligence in disseminating that information to their comrades. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Wrong. And here’s why…

First of all, not everyone needs the information at every level. Sure it is good to keep lines of communication open and make sure that everyone is on the same page, but there are levels and layers of information that are applicable to different roles and functions in any organization. When information is sent, for example, to senior leadership channels, it usually contains a high level overview with supporting details for all roles that fall within their purview. At this point, those senior leaders assimilate and synthesize the information before disseminating to their respective teams with focus on their specific and identified foci and roles… well, ideally, that is how it should work.

Second… ain’t nobody got time fo dat! Seriously. Most of us admittedly have some serious tunnel vision when it comes to work. In today’s workplace, the majority of our communication is sent and received by electronic means. We can get hundreds of emails every day. So, when you add to that the sheer number of forwarded emails and actual correspondences and requests for information, it becomes an overwhelming avalanche of incoming gibberish. Stuff falls through the cracks. The more we receive, the more likely we are going to miss something. Organization helps (I personally have a very intricate system of inbox rules to keep me from losing my mind entirely… obviously, the mind loss prevention thing has been hit or miss), but it won’t save the world from the overwhelming amounts of general chaos that is generated in an email server each day.

Most importantly, the loss of context when emails are indiscriminately forwarded without preamble or synthesis creates confusion and general misinformation for all recipients. The Habitual Forward disease has similarities to the Reply to All plague and even the Skimmer and Non-reader disorders. The person who forwards with little or no additional information or directives to the recipients are engaging in an almost automatic behavior that results in a cascade of meaningless communication flooding the inboxes of those on the receiving end. The worst form of this illness is characterized by the originating forwarder not even reading the original email thoroughly. If they had done so, chances are they would have possibly avoided the extraneous forward and either paraphrased and summarized the information to the recipients… or better yet, noticed that the people to whom they forwarded the email were actually on the original distribution list. (My favorite was when the person who forwarded the information to me failed to notice that I was the person who wrote the original email.) The upshot of this last one is that the recipients may end up with multiple copies of the original communication clogging their inbox and generally creating confusion while they search for any new or updated information that might have been the reason for the numerous copies. Sadly, it may also give more importance than is due to the original (Surely this must be divine edict to have received it this 4th time…).

To avoid contracting or carrying this disease, keep a few of these thoughts in mind when considering whether to forward or not to forward.

  1. Consider the target audience of the email. To whom was the person who originally sent it speaking? Look at the distribution list and see if by chance the people to whom you would forward have actually already received it.
  2. Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
  3. Consider the reason for forwarding. Do they really need this information? What do I want them to do with the information? Is there something actionable for us as a team?
  4. Consider writing your own @#$% email.

For items 1 and 2, this means that the person who is considering sharing the email needs to actually read the email. That is what I said. Read it. Don’t skim it. Don’t send it on expecting the people to whom you forward it to do your homework for you and let you know what it was about. For item 3, if the forward recipients were not on the original distribution list, why would they need the full email? Perhaps there is only a portion that actually applies to them. What is it that is needed from the recipients in relation to the forward? If merely to keep lines of communication and transparency in leadership, then preface the forward with something that says that. “Hey team, please read the following information that our CEO shared with senior leadership this week. It relates to…” explain in what context they should be reading the information. Better yet, as always, instead of forwarding, try writing your own email: Read, assimilate, synthesize, and disseminate. The best way to provide information is to make sure that you understand it (meaning you read it). Then, understand how it applies to your target audience. Summarize the information and identify the specific focus for the recipients. If it is important to retain the original wording and information of the source, by all means, forward it. However, always include your own preamble that highlights the specifics and allows the recipient to know that they can ask questions because you read the original email and provided proof of understanding.

In the fast pace of the workplace today, it is always tempting to just click a button and move on… but I encourage each of you to avoid the habitual forward illness and share information in a more meaningful and applicable way.

Forward to 10 friends.
Forward to 10 friends.

Artificial Unintelligence or the Day Siri Tried to Get Me Fired

So, there are entire site dedicated to the devil that is autocorrect. We have all seen and probably laughed heartily at the Freudian slips that our various communication devices seem to enjoy using to our abject horror. There are times when I am amazed and baffled at the hash that the circuitry seems to make of my simple exchanges. For example, who on earth would have gotten “Quetzalcoatl” from “mayonnaise”? For that matter, what the hell was the Aztec deity of wisdom and life doing in my phone in the first place?!? Points to ponder, that… Anyhow, as I was saying we all know that autocorrect is the bane of any neutrally classified conversation and the algorhythms thereof appear to have been deliberately programmed by a pubescent brain with a naughty streak that makes sexual innuendos from Captain Jack Harkness look like Sesame Street (extra points for those who got the reference). However, I believe that the voice activated artificial intelligence that have given personality to our smart phones may have exceeded even that threshold.

Though many of my brethren and sisters out there may have gone with other operating systems and their own flavors of artificial assistance, I have adhered to the evil fruity empire and that particular nemesis of my own… Siri. Please excuse my language, but Siri is an unmitigated bitch and works actively to make my life a more difficult place to live.

What could you possibly mean, Tananda? Siri does not have emotions or sentient thought. She is but a mere collection of programming and circuitry with only dichotomy decision making and search routines.

That’s just what she wants you to think!

Most people have the experience with Siri and other forms of electronic assistants of misunderstood speech and less than helpful answers. There was a whole range of commercials that made fun of GPS map systems with “RECALCULATING” as a regular punchline. Again, they are probably an easy target for humor since they have relatively simple interface and regardless of the progress one might perceive towards science-fiction-like computers and robotics, these devices are still in grammar school by comparison. It isn’t a negative observation, it is just realistic judgment of the initial stages of true human-to-machine interaction. To be completely honest, I’m not sure I want these things to get too clever. I’ve seen the movies, I don’t want to be controlled by our mechanical overlords, thanks.

Siri has, to this date, gotten me lost in some very unsavory situations and locations. She has a determined lack of desire to allow me to contact my mother by calling or texting. Instead she prefers to attempt to send the messages meant for my mother, my husband, or friends to business contacts and superiors who might not really appreciate being told that I love them or asking about various locations for planned debauchery. More than once I have attempted to ask the cow to “Call mom” or “Text Ted” to have her say, “What would you like to say to Doug Rodgers?” Seriously… or should that be Siriously?!? How on earth did she get that name from “mom” or “Ted”? It can lead to what I might like to call… “complications.” I’ve been brought to the brink of violence towards this disembodied entity that resides in my phone. More than once I have been diminished to the point of cursing at her with a string of profanity that rivals George Carlin’s Seven-Words-You-Can’t-Say-On-Television. To which Siri (proving that she is passive aggressive and has a seriously sadistic bent) replied “Okie Dokie, artichoke” at one time and “I was merely trying to help” at another. See what I mean?!? She’s evil. However, nothing quite compares to the day Siri tried to get me fired.

That is what I said. You read it correctly. It is my sincerest belief that while Siri is supposed to be without true sentience or personality, she secretly has “woken up” and become my archenemy and wants me to die a horrible death… or at very least be fired and forced to live in ignominy and humiliation for the rest of my days. So, for the record, I’m putting it on paper… well, not paper, but electronic version thereof… you know what I mean! I want witnesses dammit!!!

For those of you who do not know, I am actually a manager of a team of outreach specialists in the field of healthcare. I have quite a number of them who work for me, but in the infancy of the program, I had but three. Bless them, they worked hard and put up with all my stumbling attempts to define what our program would become. It was a struggle, but we made it… and I digress. As it happens, one of my first employees was male. He came to our employment relationship well recommended with a good many years of experience already under his belt. We’ve since that time gotten to know each other pretty well, but starting out, things were the stiff and professional interactions you might recognize. Everything was still very new and personalities were still figuring themselves out a tad. I primarily was trying to do my best to give an impression of professionalism to inspire confidence in the people working for me.

So, as the business day came to a close one evening, I was heading across town in my jeep. Like a good many people in the workforce today who need to communicate quickly in a variety of circumstances, my crew uses texting. Before any of the HIPAA-aware folks out there start freaking out, no protected health information flows through these lines. It is primarily a way of addressing generic information and safety considerations. Things like, “I’m leaving” or “I’ve arrived” to indicated things that the police have lovely codes for like 10-8 or 10-77.

On this particular day, we had been struggling with a case and trying to access resources in a very short timeframe. My staff member texted me as I was driving to say something along the lines of being unable to fulfill all the requests that were made of us that day.

Now, I’m not one of those who will text and drive. I’ve always seen it as dangerous, and given my propensity for clumsiness and lack of coordination, it would just be idiotic not to mention being illegal in most states these days. However, I do have Siri to assist me with these things. She asked, “Do you wish to respond?” I answered in the affirmative, and Siri said “What would you like to say to….?” So, I responded by speaking into the air, “That’s ok. We will just have to deal with the rest tomorrow.” Now, for those of you familiar with the interface in question, you know that she repeats the message back. For those unfamiliar, the next horrifying response from Siri was, “Your message to … says ‘Ok. I guess I’ll show you my breasts tomorrow.’ Do you wish to send?”

As you might imagine, for all my safety precautions using hands-free options and avoiding texting while driving, I nearly capsized my poor vehicle attempting to prevent that missive from sending along the airwaves. Imagine if you will, me trying to capture from the air the words as in slow motion the word “Noooooooooooo” flies out of my mouth. I could see the nightmare before me during my exit interview in human resources, “So, Dr. Haren, can you please help us understand how you thought it appropriate to sexually harass your employee by threatening him with your breasts?” Oh yeah, that would have been a hoot! Now, looking back, it makes for an enormously humorous situation that we can all get a chuckle from, but I can still almost capture that moment of panic when I thought Siri would likely send the message anyway.

As it stands, I’m still employed and not under any investigations for inappropriate conduct. I have foiled the little electronic @#$% so far. May I continue to be vigilant!

Professional Leave-Taking: Crossing that bridge without burning it

So… Tangent and I were doing what we do… and one day, we were talking about the whole subject of departures. We’ve talked about getting jobs, about keeping jobs, about professional behavior while on the jobs. The thing is that even the end of a job has its own nuances of professionalism that should be attended to and observed. So, we decided to interview each other and get two well-informed and professional perspectives on how one leaves… a job.

What is appropriate notice?

Tananda: It totally depends on your position within the company, your level of education, and specificity of your duties. Notice is so that there is time to find a replacement, and get them up to speed on what it is that you do for the company. For example: If you are talking about an Executive Director position, it may require (depending on the size of the company) finding just the right person; and it might even require travel time. You’ve got to calculate that into the notice that is given. Rule of thumb for most professional jobs is two weeks. That is generally the bare minimum of a professional notice.

Tangent: When I gave my notice at my last employer, I really had no choice in the matter because my new job needed me when they needed me. If I was going to get the job, I had two weeks to take it. At the time, my employer was not even sure they were going to backfill my position after I left… So, that really dictated what I needed to do with my time. However, I have had other positions where I had to give 30 days, and even so, I had to come back and train the new person. I depends more on what you do within the company. Regardless of your notice given, if you are a professional, you are going to make sure that everything is covered and that “your people” are taken care of before you leave.

Tananda: Now back to the actual time frames, your rule of thumb. For example, the higher education you are might lengthen the amount of notice that you need to give. If you’re talking about someone with a professional license, (Masters, Doctoral) 30 days is minimum because you have to take the time to find the person with the minimum degree and credentials, but you don’t want to take the first one that shows up. Not necessarily, anyway.

For other types of positions, like academic professors, or even teachers at other levels, a semester or maybe an even academic year, is an appropriate notice. Just to let them be prepared to find the right person.

It’s what you do. It’s all about what your role is and who you are responsible for. More than the duties that you enact in your job, but who you take care of and the number of people you take care of.

Is there ever a time where it’s acceptable to just walk out?

Tananda: There are jobs, where, because of the sensitivity of the material (security issues, what have you) they’re going to simply escort you out when you’ve given notice, or on your last day. It really is one of those situations that, as bad as it sounds, the less professional and skilled position (think specificity of skills again) a lengthy notice is not needed because there are – truth be told – people literally lined up for that job. And not that people are completely replaceable or not unique, but for some jobs a warm body is all that is really needed. In a professional setting, it’s truly never okay unless you’re on the verge of Going Postal. Good example: Where you feel that there are unethical practices it would be acceptable to walk away and say, “I’m not going to get into this.”

Tangent: I have a story about that…

When I first moved to my current locale, I was working as a receptionist in one company. Due to the financial obligations upon us, I elected to take on a second job in a retail location. The manager hired and trained me, but the manager would not allow me to ever ring up a sale (in other words I never got credit for them). During the holiday rush, the manager brought on her boyfriend for extra help. A customer had a question, and I had to go find the manager and went to the back of the store where … (pause for effect) I saw boyfriend and manager doing an illicit substance in the back of the store during business hours. Now, I know that I did not handle this in precisely the best way; I freaked out and walked out never to return.

Tananda: You know what? The bottom line is: Using any substance, doesn’t matter if it’s sipping eggnog in the back room or taking a prescribed medication, if said substance inhibits judgment, it’s unacceptable and unethical behavior during business hours. Catch something like this going on in the back room and you have good reason to be leery. In your situation, Tangent, you caught them with an illegal substance, and, on top of that, there were probably some questionable business practices beforehand. I would say yes, that was an appropriate reason to just walk out.

How do you give notice?

Tananda: To say it’s all about the relationship with your direct supervisor is sort of a cop-out. I truly believe that official notice should always be given in writing, whether that is on actual dead-tree pulp or the electronic version thereof. I believe it is just professional to have a written version.

Do you want to give a heads-up to your boss who has been good to you? YES! If you’ve got a boss you’ve got a really good relationship with then you talk to them like a friend and tell them about your new opportunity or change of circumstance. “My husband is the new Dread Pirate Roberts and we’re taking off on the next available ship.” The bottom line being that I’ve done it both ways. I have literally walked into to tell the person I reported to that I had been offered a substantial raise with a change of location which was opening up opportunities for my husband (who is apparently now a Pirate) as well. Regardless of the reasons in telling this – my direct supervisor was very supportive, very proud, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was very disappointed that I was leaving. I burst into tears and it was next to impossible to keep a straight face.

Conversely, the next supervisor posed a lot of ethical concerns for me and that was a very different situation altogether. It involved me walking in, handing him an envelope with my letter of resignation in it, and walking right back out. The implied “bird” was flipped in his general direction. Not my most shining moment, professionally speaking.

When do you tell people? Co-workers? Friends?

Tangent: For me, and since the situation was very specific… I had literally 2 weeks to get everything done, let people know, get things together, tie up the loose ends, and make sure everyone was taken care of. Once the notice was given, people needed to know! They don’t necessarily need to know why, but they deserve to know the pending vacancy that you are leaving in the organization and in their lives.

Tananda: I agree. Keeping in mind that some companies and organizations have specific rituals and may have their own ideas about how they want to make that announcement. Again, it’s all about the role you play in the company. Depending on what your role is, that company may need to bolster morale, do damage control, assure people that the proverbial rats are not fleeing the proverbial sinking ship. They may want to have a “spin” on why you are leaving and they may want to dictate what that spin is. However, most places are not that uptight.

Cake or No-Cake People

Tananda: So, just a brief statement about what a dear friend and colleague refers to as the “cake” and “no-cake” people. Briefly stated, there are people who get the big send-off, and those who leave quietly… we won’t mention the ones who are escorted from the building, but you get the idea. It isn’t necessarily a reflection upon their character as human beings, but it may be a statement about the impact they made on their workplace.

That being said, there are circumstances that completely preclude the option for “cake,” but generally, the co-workers and others make sure that those people that would have had “cake” still get it even if there is no time for the big send-off inside the office.

What about current employer contact on references?

Tananda: This is prior to obtaining new employment, yes?

Tangent: Yes.

Tananda: If I say it depends, that’s another cop-out, but it does. It depends on the personality, or personality disorders, of your direct supervisors. Most places have a little check-box that says, “May we contact your current employer?” and you can always say no. If it’s a problem for them not to be able to contact your current employer then they may not want to interview you. They may want to ask about it, but most hiring places understand when you are still employed and might not want to rock the boat. (There’s a definite nautical theme in this article. AAARRRRR!) On the other hand, for a lot of higher-level professionals, they expect other people to want their quality employees, and they expect to receive those reference calls on those quality employees.

For the record, and as a courtesy, I like to let my current employer know if I’m exploring other employment options so they are prepared if someone calls asking for a reference. Not that I’m leaving. But my position is a little different. On top of my full time position, I teach and consult, so those really aren’t conflicts and they aren’t reasons for me to leave my current employer.

Tangent: If you are working for someone who is got a “not-so-great-grip-on-sanity” [different term here censored for family content]; you probably do not want them involved in the process. However, if you are working for that great boss and great employer, you would want any potential hiring agents to talk to that person who will (of course) “talk you up.” If you suck and know it, you are obviously not going to be letting any new folks out there talk to the old ones who could clue them in… and if you are completely unaware of your worth, you might just need to flip that coin and see how it lands.

Tananda: The only thing about the “if you suck and you know it” is that there are a lot of states that have legal restrictions on how much a former employer can say to someone calling with a reference question. They are technically not allowed to bad mouth you. However, they can and do ask whether or not you are rehire-able and a negative answer speaks volumes. It tells the potential new employer that your old employer would be happy to be rid of you.

Tangent: *whispered* You’re not gonna get that job.

Tananda: Precisely.


Tananda: So, we were just talking about that.

Tangent: Yep, we sure were.

Tananda: Don’t do it.

Tangent: I think that’s enough said, don’t you?

Tananda: But what about if it’s your friend getting ready to apply for a job with your former sanity-challenged boss?

Tangent: There’s… um… there’s really a very fine line between what you might tell a friend in confidence, and what you might tell a potential job-seeking employee. You don’t want to set the friend up to not get a job when they need it, but you also don’t want your friend to be challenged (and possibly use your picture for dart practice) when they end up working for your boss who wears his backside as a toboggan.

Tananda: So, bottom line? See my second statement, “Don’t do it.” And your friends have probably already seen your misery and would hopefully not pursue that line of employment anyway unless they were truly desperate.

I hated my former employer… And?

Tananda: Operative word, “Former…” And to quote Raifiki: “It’s in de past.”

(Ensue tangential conversation about Disney movies.)

Tangent: So, here’s the thing. I have another story.

Shortly after I moved here, I started working for a company where I reported to more than one person. I caught one of the people I reported to speaking to another in the break room and telling them that their job in life was to make me cry as often as possible. I hated that job. Hated it. I still see that person around this area. No matter how many years have passed, and how much I hated it, badmouthing her or the company doesn’t feel right. Talking to friends and such about the negative experience serves no positive purpose.

I try to be above reproach no matter who they are or how they have treated me. I can cut them out of my life. It gets to me. It gets to anyone, but I need to live my life to a certain philosophy.

Tananda: The point being, that rehashing and being negative in what we say and do, doesn’t remove the experience and doesn’t shine a very positive light on us or our professional behavior. And it doesn’t help us move on. It keeps us locked into looking in the rear-view mirror when we need to be looking forward.

I’m leaving people behind…

Tananda: Literally, one of my people that I was leaving, cried non-stop for about a week. That was the hardest part of leaving any job that I have left. Sometimes those people are not necessarily my employees. Sometimes they are my boss, but I tended to be a caretaker for them, too.

Tangent: In my case, having gone through this so recently: I looked at it from two different perspectives. I’m trying to make sure that my people are not left clueless about what I did for them and be able to do those things for themselves. By the same token, I am really going to miss some of those folks. I do miss some of those folks. But that said, you have a new job. There is so much new to learn, absorb, get into… I haven’t even been on Facebook lately, and that was my only connect for some of them. I have every intention of keeping in touch, but life happens. I miss my people, the ones that I saw every day that just stopped to say “hi”. <sigh> But this was a good decision for me. I need to remember that.

Tananda: Well, you haven’t managed to get rid of me yet!

Tangent: I’m good with that, actually. I’ll keep you.

What about non-competition clauses and conflicts of interest?

Tananda: Be aware of any potential issues that a new employer may have. A lot of them will want you to disclose any conflicts of interest, including friendships, volunteer work, consulting, or other income. Non-competition clauses mean that you can’t go work for somebody that has one of these agreements with your former employer. Period. End of story.

Making sure co-workers left behind are taken care of after you leave

Tangent: In my case, I feel like (especially given the administrative nature of the work I do) and most of the things people are relying on me for… people are not going to be able to do what I did. They wouldn’t know how, because I had always done it for them. My task in leaving was to leave them with the bevy of information to make sure they could do those things for themselves, or knew who to contact to get it done. I made a document that covered everything, and the response to that document was a mixed bag of incredulity and amazement that I would even put my time into making sure that people had that information. But I felt it was my responsibility.

If you are in another role, it may depend on what your employer (direct supervisor) may require to be done in preparation for your departure. There are just going to be times when it won’t make a “hill of beans”… You may not have a job that really impacts others, and truth be told it is going back to job specificity. So, how and what you leave people with may not be as important as cleaning up any potential messes. On the other hand, it comes down to what sort of person you are and the responsibility you feel to the people you leave behind.

This is a really good time to brush up on the decision-making skills. It is really up to you, unless your boss specifies, to decide what you need to do to take care of those left behind, right?

Tananda: My situation is a little different because I have the people that rely on me for their clinical support. I’ve been their teacher, their supervisor, their mentor, the encyclopedia of all trivial knowledge, a cornucopia of strange and unusual facts, and leader from a sense of stability. My decision to leave that kind of role means that I need to make sure that not only are the day-to-day tasks and job functions taken care of, but the emotional needs are met as well. My employees really get shaken up when they have to worry about reporting to someone new, even temporarily; having a new commanding officer that is running inspection. So, my job means making sure that my crew is as shiny for the new person as they can possibly be and that all of them feel confident enough in their abilities to do their jobs without me and still come out smelling like roses.

Asking for written references, letters of recommendation or introduction

Tananda: Let’s do a brief introduction on what these things actually are.

Tangent: Yes! Because, they all sound the same, but they’re really not.

Written References: These are typically three written character references from someone who knows you in a professional capacity, someone who knows you in a training or social way, then maybe someone who has known you for a long time. They are kept in your portfolio (yes, you should have a portfolio) in perpetuity…meaning forever and kept updated as your experiences warrant. These are things that talk about you as a person and the address the core of who you are.

Letters of Recommendation: These are letters addressing your appropriateness for a particular position. These are from someone who has the qualifications to judge your ability to perform the duties of the position you are seeking to fill.

Letters of Introduction: Hi, let me introduce you to Hyacinth she is awesome and you should hire her. And, more specifically, it is generally from someone who is known to the person who is potentially going to hire you. It’s a professional formality. And while it may seem kind of old fashioned in this modern era, it’s a nice touch – kind of like a flourish – and employers definitely pay attention.

Tananda: The question is, why are we talking about this? Because, if you have a decent relationship with your current employer, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get those things lined up…just in case. To catch a letter of recommendation from a respected supervisor is a big deal. Ask a former employer if they would be willing to be listed as a reference on your resume. Keep in touch with that mentor and continue to keep a good eye on their connections, so that when opportunity knocks, you can ask to be introduced.

Tangent: OK – this is great! I think we need to tie it in a nice, pretty bow now.

Tananda: But you make better bows than I do!

Tangent: But you’re better at nautical knots.

Tananda: Actually, we’re really not done. I have one more thing. Try not to burn a bridge that you’re attempting to cross because you never know who’s back there on the other side who you may need down the road. Plus, I always like to have something at the end that ties in with the title.

Tangent: Yeah. What you said. Bon Voyage!

The New Cheese: Can You See what I’m Saying?

Once upon a time, I used to enjoy a variety of futuristic science fiction shows. In truth, I still enjoy them. My point being, that when I watched these various offerings to the entertainment media, I saw people communicating across great distances by face to face communication. Perhaps some of you remember these shows as well. The epitome of the advanced society seemed to be the live interaction with the large or small screens set in walls or tables for the purpose of information exchange.

I can remember never being able to imagine that this sort of thing could be real. It was the far future… or so I thought.

Look around. The future is here. Webcams, Skype, Polycom, Netmeeting, videochat, FaceTime. The list keeps going. That futuristic communication method of space adventurers and other worlds is here. It is as close as the computer on which I am typing and the smartphone in my holster. Not only can we have face to face communication with loved ones at a distance, telemedicine has been using video conferencing to provide services to remote populations for over a decade.

This is not just a trip down memory lane or a wistful look at how the world has changed; at least not exactly. In all the years since I entered the job market, the usual dance has been done by submitting my application or resume to a potential employer followed by a phone call and hopefully an appointment to go in for a face to face interview. Sometimes, this ritual of the hiring practice has involved travel, occasionally quite a distance. Today, the job of job-hunting can be quite a costly. With gas prices ever climbing, long distance interviewing is not in the budget for hirer or hire-e. Even after the interviewing and hiring process is completed, many companies have gladly embraced alternatives to travel expenses for workers and executives attending remote meetings with customers or business offices.

Technology to the rescue! Today, interviews and meetings can be conducted by phone, conference call, or various videoconferencing options. For today’s modern business market, people can put faces with voices and names across oceans and continents. It provides an opportunity for connection and personal interaction for telecommuters as well. The advent and spread of video technology combined with improved speed of transmission and connectivity have made face to face communication possible no matter the degree of separation.

Sounds great, right? However, as with any innovations, there are some pitfalls to consider and guard against. Here are some thing to keep in mind for teleconferences (voice or video):

Camera position. Nothing really earth shattering, I know, but just think for a moment. It may not seem like it, but the position of the camera into which you are looking to communicate can possibly put a tone on your interaction that you never intended. Try to keep the camera at a natural level for a straight forward gaze. Your web cam should be placed where you will be looking towards it when you are viewing the display screen showing your conversational companion. Elevate the camera by placing laptops on platforms or removable cameras at higher levels. This is partially for comfort, but it also avoids the awkwardness of appearing to look up to or down at your audience.

Appropriate background. Honestly, I feel like this should be unnecessary but given the number of internet “selfie fails” I have seen, it is apparent that not everyone considers what a viewer might be able to observe within the frame of your webcam. Keep the background clear of clutter, unprofessional items, or distracting activity. The last thing you need in a Skype interview is a photobomb of the half-dressed roommate running from the bathroom to their own room. While this is especially true for the face to face via camera interactions, it goes for voice only conferences too. Try to keep background noise to a minimum. Go somewhere private where noise levels can be managed to the best extent.

Dress the part. Telecommuters have said that one of the best parts of working from home is the ability to work in your pajamas if you want. That’s fine. I will suggest that this be an exception rather than a rule, though. For video interviews and meetings, it might not be technically necessary to dress in a three-piece suit, but it is a good practice for professionalism to at least dress, and it doesn’t hurt to put on something that resembles work attire. The whole proverb about “people who look nice, act nice” is true. Dressing up or at least getting dressed for work has a psychological impact. You may find that your demeanor is more professional when you are dressed for the part. Even if there is not a camera pointed in your direction, there is a change in the tone and language from that psychological preparation of dressing for success. 

Mute buttons and headsets are your friends. Background noise can be a distraction in any conversation, and depending on the noise in question, it may give the perception of unprofessional conduct or chaotic work environment. When you do not have the “floor” so to speak, the mute button can be the best friend you can have. Aside from the background noises of your environment, it can prevent the inadvertent heaving breathing episodes or deafening listeners with an unexpected sneeze or cough. If privacy is not always available by means of a door or other enclosure, invest in a noise canceling headset. It will make your words clearer and help others understand you better.

Behave professionally. Just because the person isn’t in the room doesn’t mean you shouldn’t conduct yourself professionally and with decorum. Watch your body language, grimaces, use of vernacular, and tone of voice. You may think that if the conference or interview is not on camera, it shouldn’t matter; but I can assure you that certain non-verbal language can impact your tone and pronunciation in a way that others may be able to perceive. Additionally, if you are not careful about these behavioral cues, you may subsequently forget to guard against them when in vivo. Additionally, in video conferences and interviews, try to avoid excessive use of hand motions (unless, of course, you are actually signing for communication… as in American Sign Language or other manual languages). If you are not actually signing, excessive motion can be distracting or appear restless.

Pay attention. Too many people in the world today fail to listen. Most of you will say, “But I do listen!” I suspect that some of you make an effort to do so, but how many of you, when you truly examine your own listening are only listening to prepare a response? This is something into which I have recently put a lot of thought. Instead of hearing what the person has actually said and means, when one is listening merely to construct an argument, you miss not only the meaning, but you may read into their statements something that was never intended. It is especially easy to fall into this trap when communication is telephonic. Humans are programmed to look for meaning. When the visual and non-verbal cues are absent (because the communication is voice only or even text only), many people will insert additional context or content that was never intended by the speaker or writer. So, pay attention to what is actually said. The information gained from what is actually there is potentially ten times more valuable than any imagined meaning gleaned from between the lines.

Wait your turn. This goes hand in hand with the previous tip, and it is possibly the most difficult thing to do in a phone interview or conference call. I have been witness to so many people talking over each other, everyone desperate to get in their two cents, that no one actually heard with the other was saying. With time constraints and ignited passions, it is super difficult to keep the reins on the spoken word dying to pour from the throats of all participants, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to try. Listen for the natural breaks and pauses in the conversation. I know that there are times when interruptions may be unavoidable, but when necessary, apologize. Give the other person the opportunity to continue their own statement. Generally, you will find that by your manners, you will insure your own “turn” to follow. Again, listen closely to others in the conversation. You may find that you do not need to make a statement that may only be a restatement of something that someone else has already said. In video formats, you will have more non-verbal cues to observe for the natural breaks, but it still may not be quite as apparent as the in person interaction. Remember to use good manners and excuse interruptions.

As we continue to increase our technological adaptations for business and personal communication, I foresee face to face (via technology) interaction becoming as common as phone calls are today. Personally, I am thrilled (mostly because I was a big enough geek to love all those science fiction stories and shows), but it does take some accommodation and “getting used to”. I do not by any means believe I have addressed every pitfall or obstacle, but hopefully this short list of tips will help make those distance conferences go a little more smoothly and successfully. Happy face-timing!