Winning at the Telephone Game: Communicating Better with Tech

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Visualization of woman interacting with data
Visualization of woman interacting with data

So, raise your hand. Who among us has played a game of old-school Telephone? That’s the one where you gather a group in a circle, and one person whispers a word or phrase to the person next to them, who then “passes it on” to the next person. The fun comes in hearing the last person guess the word out loud. The last time I played, the word “metamorphosis” evolved into “my mom found a fish” by the end of the circle.

The Telephone game is a great example of just how complex communication can be. Small misunderstandings can lead to big differences. Distractions can impede our focus on actively listening to each other. In the game of Telephone, it’s that – just a game. But for those of us working in global mobility, communication comes with significant potential complications–language barriers, time differences, remote interaction, cultural differences, client deadlines, and assignees’ anxieties.

Tech Communication Tools are Value-Adds

For mobility’s far-flung teams, communication certainly is not a game. But technology can be a game-changer in how we communicate. That is why, years ago, CapRelo began leveraging technology to supplement the all-so-important human connection as we support relocation clients around the globe. While many companies only really discovered tools like Zoom and Teams out of the necessities brought on by COVID-19, CapRelo’s team had long ago incorporated them because of their value-add.

We not only heavily leverage those, but we have placed a high priority on building our own tech tools to precisely benefit our customers’ unique needs. For example, we built our own integrated supply chain communications management tool to enable seamless communication with our supply chain. We also developed our own proprietary platform for speeding the relocation process and facilitating communication between CapRelo, employers, and their assignees.

In our years of leveraging communication technologies, we’ve uncovered a few best practices that we believe help these tools shine. Here are some that you may find useful in your business, too.

Turn on the Camera

Did you know that more than half of communication (55%) is done through our facial expressions? This is not new news; research goes back to the 1960s. But, given the 2020s’ reality of Zoom calls (and even face masks), the relevance has never been stronger.

It can be tempting to jump on an online call straight from the gym and want to keep your sweaty countenance offline. But avoiding the camera is a sure bet to decreasing your meeting’s communication effectiveness. Add to that the likelihood in global mobility organizations that your meeting participants may be working in their second language. Video increases their ability to use non-verbal clues like your voice and facial expression to better absorb the information.

Adapt to Barriers

In addition to using video, consider other ways to help non-native-speaking colleagues more comfortably navigate online meetings. We have learned, for example, to simply slow down when speaking. We heavily use the chat box to emphasize or repeat comments, share additional context, and encourage dialogue there. Where appropriate, we record meetings so that participants can access conversations later.

Be sensitive to time zones. While it may be impossible to find the perfect mid-work day time for every one of your global participants, share the “pain” on recurring calls. Don’t be that vendor or employer who routinely sets meeting times for your own convenience.

Amp Up the Volume

By that I mean, don’t simply commit to communicate. Commit to follow-up, clarify and confirm that your assignees, partners, and colleagues understand the message.

It takes very little work to take that extra step. Sharing a recorded version of a call is one way. You might ask for a volunteer on each call to act as a scribe, sharing notes and task assignments afterward. House those in a shared communication tool like Teams, accessible to all. And Additionally, remember to save meeting chats before closing out a call. They can be helpful for follow-up, especially for those who might not be comfortable speaking up in a meeting.

Adapt to Your Audience

For those of us managing teams across the world, where in-person meetings and office drop-ins are not options, all these tech tools are important in our toolkit. But technology is not a panacea to replace that personal touch.

Remember that each of us absorbs information differently. We each have preferred communication styles. Some like a phone call, and some want a text or email. CapRelo knows this all too well. Between 80% and 90% of our organization has been remote since our inception. While technology can speed worldwide communication, and in many ways make it better, there is just no substitute for the human connection that is the foundation for our service delivery model.

The New Golden Rule of Communication

Probably like you, as a youngster I was taught to apply the Golden Rule in my relationships: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

But as I consider the challenges our global mobility organizations face when it comes to communicating, I propose that we tweak that mantra:

I believe that our global organizations will be far better if we learn to communicate with others the way they want to be communicated with.

That means leveraging communication technologies coupled with the human touch to meet clients, partners, and assignees on their own communication terms. That’s how to play the Telephone Game in today’s global mobility world.

About the Author

Barry Morris

President & CEO

A tech-savvy leader, President & CEO Barry Morris ensures resources are aligned to deliver value to the company’s core global customer groups – clients, transferring employees, suppliers, affiliates and CapRelo’s own staff. His focus is to create a…