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Episode 404: Building Trust Using Virtual Communication (Free)

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Sara and Cornelius
Sara Gallagher and Cornelius Fichtner

A large number of projects these days rely on virtual teams. This means that we project managers must master how we communicate in a virtual setting in order to properly lead our teams. But how do you build trust as a leader if nobody can actually see you?

This interview with Sara Gallagher (LinkedIn Profile) was recorded at the awe-inspiring Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Conference 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. It is based on her presentation "You Can Trust Me: Communicating When Nobody Can See Your Face" and explores tools and techniques project leaders can apply to improve communication and convey trust even in digital and virtual settings. Here is what Sara wrote about her presentation:

Trust is essential to effective communication across your team and your stakeholders - but how can you communicate trust when no one can see your face? This engaging session will examine how the four cores of trust are impacted in a digital, global communication environment. Participants will be given the opportunity to immediately apply what they've learned to improve communication across their teams.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Female Voice: In this episode of the Project Management Podcast, we learned to apply specific tools and techniques to improve communication and convey trust even in digital and virtual settings.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™ at I am Cornelius Fichtner. We are coming to you live from the inspiring 2017 PMI Global Conference in Chicago.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: And with me right now is Sara Gallagher. Good morning!

Sara Gallagher: Hello, good morning!

Cornelius Fichtner: How are you today?

Sara Gallagher: I’m doing great! This has been a fantastic conference!

Cornelius Fichtner: You are smiling from ear to ear. You have already presented and they invited you back!

Sara Gallagher: They do!

Cornelius Fichtner: You’re going to have to give an encore presentation.

Sara Gallagher: Yes, I’ll be speaking again at 1 o’clock today.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah! So you must be ecstatic.

Sara Gallagher: Well sort of. It’s funny right after you present, you’re like: "Ah, finally I can relax.” And then you get the call that you are doing it again. And it all starts again and all the prep work and everything. But it’ll be fun. I’m really excited.

Cornelius Fichtner: How do you like the energy at this conference?

Sara Gallagher: Energy has been amazing! So I’ll tell you, this has been a different conference for me in that I came alone and I don’t always do that. But I haven’t felt alone. Everywhere I’ve walked, everywhere I’ve gone, people have smiled, introduced themselves, taken me to dinner. So I found friends everywhere and in every industry, every state and many different countries. It’s been amazing.

Cornelius Fichtner: So to the people at home who are kind of on the edge: “Should I go to a conference? Should I not go to a conference?” What is your recommendation?

Sara Gallagher: Oh absolutely do it. Absolutely do it. My first conference was 2015 and I went in both feet in. I came and I also spoke at two presentations. So it’s a first-time conference experience and a first time speaking-at-a-conference experience, and it was fabulous! I get so many great little nuggets of inspiration and ideas I can take back with me, and a great network I come back with. So definitely do it.

Cornelius Fichtner: Your presentation is titled: “You can trust me. Communication when no one can see your face.” Which is something that we are doing right now!

Sara Gallagher: It is true! It’s true!

Cornelius Fichtner: Nobody can see our faces.

Sara Gallagher: Yes.

Cornelius Fichtner: What’s the story behind this particular presentation? What got you interested in this?

Sara Gallagher: Well I think some of the best topics come from personal struggle. In my line of work, I work with high-stakes projects. So these are projects that have a lot of potential business reward but if they’re executed poorly can cause pretty disastrous disruption. In that line of work, I vastly prefer to do it face to face because often there’s a lot of political agendas, complex stakeholder issues and so fewer misunderstandings occur when you can just look someone in the face and really have conversations.

And so, I struggle with this for a long time and I kind of made it my mission for a couple of years to just experiment, read, research and get better at it. So, I don’t have all the answers. I certainly don’t have a silver bullet solution but my goal with this talk was to just present some of those ah-ha moments that I’ve had, those insights and get people rolling towards a better to work online.

Cornelius Fichtner: What tools do you use to connect to people online where this has grown out of and you learn from?

Sara Gallagher: So I’ve done a couple of things. I do a lot of video conferencing and I’m a big believer in that. I think it has limitations still that people need to acknowledge. It is not the same as face to face. We’ll talk about why in a moment. But I do a lot of that both with a fully blown technology solution where you walk into a conference room and there are cameras everywhere and that type of thing. But also just Skype on my laptop which most people now have access to Skype for business or something similar. So in my mind there’s really no excuse, right, not to let people see your face when possible.

Cornelius Fichtner: Well sometimes in the morning, 7:30 no, no, no.

Sara Gallagher: Oh well that’s true. That’s true. I know.

Cornelius Fichtner: I always say, I have a face for radio.

Sara Gallagher: So I have been on video conferences with Germany, which is a 7-hour time difference and I’m full hair and makeup at like 5 in the morning at the office ready to do this. So I know all about that.

And then of course you know telephone, instant messaging, email, all of those things that people use, I’ve done that as well.

Cornelius Fichtner: Let’s take a step back and think about more the not the digital communication but the personal communication. Once you meet somebody if you’re in a meeting room together with them, what are some of the clues that we look for to determine if someone is trustworthy that we talk to?

Sara Gallagher: Well you know it’s really interesting and we have an excellent keynote yesterday that talked about this very issue. The fact of the matter is what we do look for and what we should be looking for are usually separate things.

What we do look for is body language. What are they telling us with their eyes? Where are they looking, and what are they paying attention to? And the keynote, we learned that’s not always the best clue as to what they are actually thinking. But what’s really interesting about in-person communication is you think about people you work with physically in an office, right?

All week long you have all of these micro-interactions with them. You pass them on the way to the bathroom. You tell them a joke. You tell them a story, pass along an idea that you had. And you have accumulated all of this data about this person and what motivates them and what drives them. So when you get into a conference room and you have to argue about something or you have to push your way towards a solution, all of a sudden that person is a human. They are not just a voice or an obstacle on the other end of the phone or on the other end of an email. So in a virtual environment, our goal has to be to replicate the humanity that we have with in person interactions.

Cornelius Fichtner: I had an experience once where we have an offshore team and they were just words on the other side of an email chain and one day we managed to finally be able to get them on a video conference. And just that 30‑minute conversation changed everything.

Sara Gallagher: It did?

Cornelius Fichtner: It brought us closer together. We knew them. We saw them. They were actually human beings over there, right? And they took the time. It was late for them in the evening to come and meet with us and that just personal interaction that we had there, that helped.

Sara Gallagher: It absolutely does and that’s one of the first ah-ha moments that I had is number one: The more that can you meet face to face in the beginning of a project, the better. If you can afford it, do it. But as you go along, have those touch points where they can see your face or at least hear your voice, relying more on phone than email. But help them experience that warmth.

And another thing that I’ve done is you can actually get in their physical space by simply using the postal system. So I had a stakeholder in a different state who was just notoriously difficult. I mean every interaction with this guy was just horrendous. And finally, I reached across on a video chat and I asked him to stay after a meeting and I said: “Jeff, I get the sense that you are really stressed about this project. Can you walk me through some of the things you’re thinking about with this?” I swear to God this is what he says to me: “Alright, I’ll come clean. I hate project managers.” I was like: “Okay!”

Cornelius Fichtner: One way to kill a conversation!

Sara Gallagher: Exactly! But actually it opened a conversation because I could see his face and I could see he was kind of half-joking. But we were able to have really honest conversations about his experiences in the past, what I was going to do to be different. I followed that conversation up. I learned that he was a big Reese’s Pieces fan. So I hear you’re a Gummy Bear fan.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah!

Sara Gallagher: Yeah, yeah! So he was a Reese’s Pieces guy. So I mailed him a bag of Reese’s Pieces and a neck pillow with a note that said: “Use this every time I’m a pain in your neck.” And just that act that warmth of him getting something from me in the mail that sat on his desk that he could tap into when he was frustrated was great. And so that’s one the techniques that I’ve kind of found along the way as well.

Cornelius Fichtner: And for our international listeners, Reese’s Pieces is a chocolate, right?

Sara Gallagher: It’s a peanut butter chocolate. Think about M and M’s that little chocolate round, yeah! It’s like that.

Cornelius Fichtner: And isn’t it in ET the movie? Isn’t that what Eliot uses to lure ET out of the shed there?

Sara Gallagher: Yeah, it is. If you have a peanut allergy, I would not recommend them, but yeah!

Cornelius Fichtner: Ah yes, okay! One of your slides in the presentation that caught my eyes, I go: “Oh, what is this, uncertainty tax?” What is the uncertainty tax?


Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

PDUs: Power Skills, Project Communications Management, Virtual Teams, PMI Global Conference, PMI Global Conference 2017

  • Last updated on .
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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