Video conferencing technology crosses geographical boundaries and connects participants all over the world with the click of a button. Many collaboration sessions with peers are informal gatherings where different ideas and concepts are discussed. However, what is perceived as a normal hand gesture in one country may be completely offensive in another. Colleagues should be mindful of their hand gestures during international meetings and specifically avoid the gestures below that have multiple meanings.

A-Okay
In the US and UK this gestures is often used to signify things are “a-okay” or absolutely fine but in Japan it means money or coins. This can become quite confusing to your Japanese counterparts when they ask you a question and you respond with coins. In a few European countries, such as France, this gesture means ‘zero’ and by responding to an idea with it you are essentially saying their idea is useless which can be quite insulting. Far worse, in Brazil and Germany the term is downright vulgar. 

Thumbs Up
In Western cultures this is a sign of approval or a job well done or that you are good to go; however, in Latin America and the Middle East it is one of the biggest insults you can give. So when your Latin American colleague asks if you can hear him now, it’s best to respond verbally instead of simply giving the thumbs up sign. 

Stop
Meetings sometimes get out of control with multiple people talking at the same time. To get everyone’s attention the meeting leader may hold up his hand to signify stop; however, he will really be telling his Greek counterparts to go see the devil.   

V-Sign
Many people use this sign to refer to the number two but in the UK or Australia it is the equivalent of telling someone where to go. Be wary of using hand gestures to signify numbers to avoid offending colleagues and keep meetings on track. 

There are a lot of different cultures in the world and each has their own way of expressing feelings through body language. Gestures that may seem harmless can be deeply offensive to another culture so before meeting with international clients or colleagues it may behoove you to brush up on their culture to avoid any faux pas.

We’ve all heard the famous story of Mike Smith and Dick Rowe who turned down the Beatles because “four-piece groups with guitars are finished.” This was probably one of the worst business decisions in history and today’s executives are doing everything in their power to avoid the same demise. There are several secrets to successful decisions but teamwork and collaboration seem to be the most talked about.  

But does teamwork guarantee success? Of course not, it can simply improve the chances for success if done properly.  So what makes a good team? 

Member Diversity: It wouldn’t have mattered if Smith and Rowe had three other people in the room with them; if they all had the same background and opinions the outcome would have been the same, except there would be four people to blame instead of two. An optimal team has members with a wide range of specialties and no two members having the same specialty. This ensures varying opinions from different perspectives and can minimize the chances missing something important. 

Open Communication: What good are several different opinions if they are never shared? If only two team members contribute while everyone else agrees because they are afraid to voice their concerns important aspects can be missed leading to a poor business decision. Interaction and involvement of all members is imperative and group leaders should encourage everyone to contribute their ideas. 

Strong & Clear Leadership: At any given time in a group there must be a strong leader; however, leadership should shift between members. Every team member should have an understanding of their individual leadership skills and be willing and able to function as a leader when needed. Strong and flexible leadership helps ensure high participation as team members utilize their strengths appropriately.

Mutual Trust: Trust is a key component in any team; members must be able to trust the integrity and positive intentions of the others on the team. There must also be mutual respect for the different approaches to work and conflict resolution among team members. This helps the team members form a cohesive unit based on integrity which is highly conducive to open communication. 

Conflict Resolution: Conflicts are guaranteed in any high performing team, as there will always be a couple varying opinions. Therefore, constructive conflict resolution is an integral process for teams to master. The process should revolve around identifying, defining and then resolving the problem with team members actively listening to each other. The focus should be on working toward a solution rather than assigning blame to team members. 

Great teams can produce impressive results; from new product ideas to strategic decision making. However, simply gathering a group of people together does not make a great team. It takes thought to select a diverse but passionate group of people who can work together in an efficient and effective manner for optimal results.

Video conferencing has truly changed the way that people communicate throughout their business and the world. The technology brings people together while providing significant cost savings and productivity gains. But, like any other technology there are always some things to watch out for and some common mistakes or “blunders” that can be made that make you look, well, terrible.

Recently I was presenting to our sales team and quickly came face to face with some of the blunders I’ve experience in the past. While I am proud to say that I did not experience all of these in this single meeting, I came close!

Here they are, in no particular order:

1) The Powerful Forehead: Video conferencing is all about seeing the other participants. When you setup for a call, make sure you have your camera positioned well.  As lovely as it is, the other side is not particularly interested in your forehead. Focus on positioning the camera as if you were a newscaster.  Get your face in the middle of the frame; keep the upper part of your shoulders visible and make sure you don’t put too much space above your head.  You don’t want to cut off your hair, but you also do not want participants to be able to see the taxidermy moose you have hanging behind you.

2) The Background Joke: What’s going on behind you in a video conference can be just as important as your personal appearance. Make sure your background is as minimal as possible. A solid color wall or sheet is a great way to avoid an unsightly distraction. If you can’t have a totally clear background, make sure you do your best to keep background items to a minimal. If you have book shelves behind you, make sure your HD camera is not picking up book titles you wouldn’t want people to see!

3) Can You Hear Me Now?: Sometimes when you’re on the phone you need to mute to avoid others hearing background noise or other side conversations. Video is the same. But what is important to remember is that while you may mute audio, people can still see you. If you are muted, make sure you unmute before proceeding. Nothing is worse than waxing prophetic about the latest company initiative or introducing a great idea, only to have your colleagues see your mouth moving and nothing coming out!

4) Johnny Come Lately: With a video conference, you might be connecting from your house, your office, or other remote location. Make sure you are on time! In fact, get yourself setup in your meeting environment a few minutes before the beginning of the call. This will allow you enough time to make sure your camera is positioned, your background is clear, and you have all notes/materials you need to work through the meeting.

5) Keep Your Eyes On The Prize!: As we’ve mentioned in other articles, it is important to remember that a video call requires you to be fully engaged and ready to speak/participate. Don’t let yourself be distracted (like my 3 month old who is so fascinated with our ceiling fan that he stares at it and forgets he’s hungry) and make sure that you do not let yourself wander off into other activities such as checking your email on your phone or worse, grooming!

These blunders can not only contribute to an unsuccessful call but can also negatively hurt your image with your colleagues. Don’t do that!

It’s no secret that body language provides visual clues to the people you are speaking to; both positive and negatives signs of approval, engagement, confidence and more. Lately, the importance of body language during a video call has been lost in a sea of texts, emails and phone calls. 

It is extremely important to be cognizant of body language during a video call to avoid giving the wrong impression. Body language is a major sign of whether a person is actively engaged in a conversation or words are simply going in one ear and out the other. 

Everyone has shouted you’re not listening to me only to have the other party repeat verbatim what they just said. This is because there a difference between hearing what someone is saying and actually listening to what someone is saying.   

Show others you are actively engaged and listening by not fidgeting; this includes twirling a pen or your hair, rubbing your hands together incessantly, or picking at your nails.   Also make sure to avoid the following:   

  • Propping your head up with your hands as this just screams boredom
  • Checking your phone which conveys it is more important than the person speaking
  • Tapping your fingers repeatedly as it suggests you are in a rush to move on

Additionally, in business it is important to convey both confidence in yourself and your ideas, as well as, openness to others and their ideas.  This should be expressed by maintaining good posture; sitting up straight with your shoulders back and head up.  A closed body or defensive position can lead others to discount your idea or keep them from revealing their real opinions.   A few things to avoid are:

  • Narrowing your eyes as it gives the impression you do not like a person or an idea
  • Crossing your arms as it is a sign of resistance but can also be interpreted as egotism  
  • Holding a coffee mug or notebook in front of you, indicating shyness
  • Playing with your collar or necklace, showing doubt or uncertainty 

The bottom line is, pay attention to what your body is saying about you.  Showing confidence and openness can help your career as much as boredom and uncertainty can hinder it.