I’ve been providing virtual coaching and training for the past 14 years and while the technology has changed in that time (now we have video and I have to look presentable) and some things require more attention, many of the techniques I have used for building trust have remained the same.

As someone who speaks to people about their challenges and concerns for a living, I often find myself in the position of exploring personal issues with people during our very first connection – and often this is a virtual connection.

I have learnt a few things over years that have helped me build trust and connection despite either not seeing a person because we’re on the phone or looking at each other through a screen.

Here’s are some tips I’ve used for myself over the years:

1) Start building trust before you get on the phone or online.

These days even a phone call with someone generally requires 2 or 3 emails or whats app messages to confirm when, why and how you’re going to connect. This is the time to start building trust. Firstly by responding in a timely manner with all information that is required. Secondly by ensuring the tone of your message is appropriate in helping build trust. ‘Appropriate’ can vary depending on situation and the other person’s style. If someone sends me brief, to the point messages, I’m guessing that they don’t want a long wordy response from me. But, in general I find that polite, friendly and sometimes just a little personal can go a long way.

2) Put myself in the other person’s shoes before we connect

This is about considering what the other person may have going on in their world. Have they had a busy day, are they on a tight timeline, are they dealing with challenges? Taking the time to consider another’s perspective helps me feel connected to them. It also allows me to acknowledge them for taking time out from a busy/challenging/frustrating day to speak with me. The key here is to be genuine and not just to throw in an acknowledgement as something to tick off the list of things to do to build trust.

The key here is to be genuine and not just throw in an acknowledgement as something to tick of the list of things to do to build trust.

3) Be prepared

Whether I am giving a formal presentation or connecting for an informal chat with a client or colleague, taking the time to prepare in advance helps me feel grounded, ready to go and allows me to be present when I get into the conversation.  This in turn helps me remember to do the other things I mention I below, which are the keys to building trust and connection once in the conversation.

For an informal conversation, this might be a quick few minutes reminding myself of our objectives for connecting today, or for a more formal conversation, it might mean doing my research and making notes of what I want to say.

Taking the time to prepare in advance helps me feel grounded, ready to go and allows me to be present when I get into the conversation.

4) Check in

Checking in on how people are before you begin a conversation is always important but becomes even more so when connecting virtually as you are meeting them on ‘unknown ground’.

Checking in when meeting virtually becomes even more important as you are meeting  on ‘unknown ground’. When we meet in person, we (often unconsciously) pick up clues about how someone is, but this is missing when we connect virtually.

When we meet in person, we (often unconsciously) pick up clues about how someone is through their body posture and facial expressions, we can sense their mood and readiness to speak, even before they speak. But this is missing when we connect virtually, where we suddenly find ourselves face to face on a screen with no clues about what someone has experienced 3 seconds before being on camera.

I connected with someone the other day who was working from home and came online looking very stressed. On checking in I found out that her dog had just run out of the room with a tube of hand cream and things were about to become messy! I suggested she retrieve the hand cream before we continued, which led to a much better conversation for both of us.

Exactly how you check in will depend on the situation and the relationship you have with them. It might include asking how they are, how much time they have available, if they are ready for the conversation you’re about to have and or what their expectations are.

5) Go with the flow

As much as I prepare in advance, I know my best conversations have been when I’m also willing to go with the flow. So, in fact, I plan to be willing to let go of my plan and go with the flow. We never actually know what’s going to happen once we enter a conversation and often need to be agile, go with what comes up and be prepared to adapt our plans in order to build trust. This is the value of ‘checking in’ when we first connect.

We never actually know what’s going to happen once we enter a conversation and often need to be agile, go with what comes up and be prepared to adapt our plans

Going with the flow could then include not sharing some of what I had prepared and listening more than expected, or it could involve speaking more than expected. Either way, I find being prepared in advance and planning to go with the flow helps me feel grounded, which leads to better trust and connection and more successful conversations.

These are not time consuming or difficult things to do, yet can make a world of difference to the value of our virtual (or in person) conversations.