Like many people I’ve been having a lot more video conferencing and telephone calls over the the past two weeks.
Some thoughts have arisen about how they’re supporting me, how they might be supporting others, and how best to manage them and get the best out of them. I’ve listed them below.
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1. Seeing is believing
I’ve benefited from the presence of others in my working day. The positive impact of actually seeing someone else when you’re in isolation cannot be underestimated. Merely seeing someone else in video jolts you out of your majority (and often negative) thinking space. If you’re thinking of emailing someone, then stop to consider whether a telephone call might be quicker first. Look for ways of using video calls to help others in their day.
2. Look for the everyday
Seeing other people’s bookshelves, curtains and light fittings reveals an everyday-ness about the perception of challenging people and helps take the sting out of situations.
3. Always communicate with positive intent
Heading into a video conference call has to be done with rigorous attention to maintaining a sense of positive intent.
This is our personal responsibility to one another now: to make sure our conversations are future-focussed, built with clean language, and ultimately ensuring that we want the best for the other party.
4. Don’t broadcast what you’re doing
Gone are the days of reciting what we’re doing to one another during a call. I’ve often seen this in meetings; I’ve become immune to it.
Things are a bit different now: we are actively striking up a conversation when we participate in a video call. We have to look for ways to actively engage in conversation for the benefit of the other party.
5. Avoid manufactured group fun
This may well be more of an introvert thing. I’m finding I’m benefitting more from one-to-one time with colleagues and peers. Group conversation tends to feel like a battle for attention. There also needs to be a clear purpose for the interaction. This doesn’t need to be explicitly stated so long as one party has a reason or a desired outcome for the conversation.
Video calls of more than 5 people are mostly but not exclusively a waste of time. Manufacturing group fun on a video call is enough to make me claw at the walls.
6. Be wary of the interruption to productivity
This new normal style of communication comes at a cost. The positive energy which stems as a result of such interactions can act as a distraction from the priorities of the day. Managing when to have those conversations during the day is key. I rate morning over afternoon.
7. Use contracting methods to manage challenging conversations
It is possible to have challenging conversations over a video call, though both parties will need to be up for it. The conversation also has to follow a basic formal structure, one that is probably more instinctive and therefore natural in style given the inherent latency issues with live video exchanges.
Contracting how those conversations are had is key.
One very effective method is both of you agreeing that each party talks for three minutes at a time uninterrupted. Listen intently, reflect what you’ve heard back to the other party, then proceed. Conclude the conversation with an exploration of what you both need to do to work more effectively in future.
8. Staring at the camera can be a little offputting
Being present on a video call doesn’t mean one has to look at the camera all the time. I often have to take my glasses off so that I avoid looking at the inset image of me all the time. I’m not sure how I feel about not looking straight at the camera (ie making it possible for the other party to know they being given attention); I suspect I’ll change my thinking in the next few weeks.
9. Zoom isn’t the best solution
WhatsApp is better for one-to-one video calls. I’m not 100% convinced about Zoom’s quality personally; WhatsApp has more of an immediate feel and a sharper image too. Such seemingly small points are important for conveying presence and solidity in remote conversation.
10. Ask open questions always
Asking open questions of the other party is vital in these troubled times. Open question-words like ‘what’, ‘who’ ‘when’, ‘how’ or ‘tell me more’, will trigger the other party into reflecting a little more deeply on their own thoughts such that they feel more engaged in the conversation. Avoid ‘why’ at all costs – in isolation the word why sounds even more judgmental and accusatory than it does in real life. Always make a point of summarising what you’ve heard back in conversation – that lets the other party know they’ve been listened to.
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