It's really important to remember to include the human details in our remote conversations

Staying connected

When we're face to face we see and sense things that don't get mentioned in remote conversations: how the other person is feeling, how energetically they are expressing a point, simply where they are mentally and physically. We need to find ways of working these elements back into our conversations when we can't be there.

January 24, 2022

There are only so many times that you can ask somebody “how are you?... I mean really?”, during an online meeting, before it gets weird. When we are face to face we take in a great deal of information about the person that we are with. We pick up clues from all sorts of things ranging from what they say and don't say right through to what they're wearing and whether they have shaved that morning. I once had a meeting with somebody, the Chief Executive of an aerospace company, and I thought everything was fine with him until I looked down at his feet. I was surprised to see that he was wearing one black shoe and one brown. I really didn't know whether to mention it and then I thought “what the heck, he must know that I've noticed” and I brought it up. It was only then that he revealed how things had been rather getting on top of him and that whilst things were going reasonably well with the business he was really having difficulty with the hours that he was working and with how his family felt about things.

 

I think this story illustrates, albeit in a rather crude way, how being able to see somebody only from the waist up, through a screen, can severely limit our ability to really tune into them. The point here is that human beings are sensitive creatures, we are phenomenally sharp at picking up small verbal and behavioural clues which tell us how somebody is, how well the conversation is going, and what might be going to happen next, without all these small clues in some way being expressed out loud, when we are working virtually, I can't help thinking that working through a camera and screen is always going to be inferior to getting face to face with somebody and it's going to continue to be extremely difficult to build deep relationships with people that we haven't met. And even when we can use the resources at our disposal skilfully to do so there will always be a degree of richness missing from our interactions. My thought would be: get face to face or get used to talking about real feelings when you're with people online.

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