How To Successfully Work With People Long Distance

As a freelancer and as a web-worker, one of the biggest challenges that I face nearly every day is that of working with people who I’ve never met face to face. Although a few clients contact me by telephone, most prefer to deal with me through e-mail (which is actually my preference too).

Since experts say that nonverbal communication accounts for well over half of how we interact with people, working through the Internet can sometimes seem a bit like playing a game of golf blindfolded.

I have to admit that when I read an e-mail from a client I sometimes wonder about his or her state of mind when they wrote it. Since I have no visual cues to go on, it can be easy to let my imagination wander as to the client’s state of mind.

Here are some of the things that I wonder about:

  • Do those choppy sentences mean the client is angry, or just in a hurry?
  • Is that client’s compliment to me sincere, or is she being sarcastic?
  • Is this client being totally honest and upfront with me?

Without seeing a client’s face or reading his or her body language, it can be pretty hard to know if you’re getting the full message. A telephone call can reveal the client’s tone of voice, but you still miss out on seeing their body language. (There are webcams and other tools that can help with this, but it’s nearly impossible to find a client who will use them.)

While it can be a challenge to deal with clients over long-distance, it is certainly possible to do successfully. In this article we’ll look at some ways to make it work.

5 Tips For Dealing With Long Distance Clients

Over the years I have learned a number of things that help me successfully communicate long-distance with my clients. Here are a few tips that can help:

  1. Check Your Emotions at the Door. It can be tempting to shoot out an emotional response to an e-mail that seems upsetting to you, but don’t fall into this trap. If an e-mail provokes an emotional response, then allow yourself enough time to recover from that emotion before you respond.
  2. Stay Professional and Businesslike. You’re running a business. Your client is also running a business. Communication between the two of you should reflect that. While it’s okay to be friendly, in general I’ve found that it’s best to stay away from overly personal communications with your client.
  3. It’s Okay To Negotiate. An online negotiator definitely has a more difficult job than one who can negotiate face-to-face. For that reason, I think that many freelancers avoid negotiating terms with clients. However, negotiations are an important part of doing business. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
  4. Beware the Hidden Tone. When sending an e-mail occasionally an unfriendly tone creeps in. Usually, the tone is not at all a reflection of how I’m feeling at the time, but rather more a result of how rushed I am. If you have this problem get someone else to read your e-mails before you send them.
  5. There Probably Is No Hidden Agenda. Without nonverbal cues, it’s easy to fear clients who contact you through the Internet. This is where your due diligence comes in. Before accepting work, check the client’s reputation and background. In my experience, in most cases there is no hidden agenda.

Share Your Client Communication Strategies

Communicating long-distance can also feel a bit like the children’s game of “telephone,” where each child in a circle repeats a message to the next child in the circle in a whisper.

As a participant in the game, you are never quite sure if the final message received will be the message that you sent – but, it doesn’t have to be this way. With proper strategies and planning, you can communicate effectively even without nonverbal cues.

What are your strategies for communicating with clients long distance? What obstacles have you faced and how have you overcome them?