"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said."
― Peter Drucker
Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, communication is revealed through our body language as well as our speech. When sharing a physical space, we pick up on cues we have been learning to read since childhood. For many of us, it’s second nature to notice the intense tone in someone’s voice and know they are feeling upset or to observe hunched shoulders and a lowered head and know someone is feeling uncomfortable. Our brain adds up these nonverbal cues and uses that understanding to decide how to respond. All of this while the person on the other side of our conversation is doing exactly the same thing.
According to research, non-verbal communication takes up about two thirds of communication as a whole. What is actually said takes up about one third. This is why observing as well as listening is critical to understanding the message being conveyed.
With technology like Zoom, we can still see these cues – but it takes a greater amount of focus and awareness than it would in person. If you’ve ever wrapped up a long video conference and felt more exhausted than you thought you ought to be – remember that your brain has been working double time to pick up on those non-verbal cues it relies so much on. It might seem no different using videoconference technology than an in-person meeting, but it is more challenging. Our brain works hard to discern the non-verbal cues.
When we communicate in a shared physical space, we show others we are listening to them by making eye contact. That is still true virtually, but we are now looking into the camera – not at the person’s eyes on screen. Lowering the camera to your own eye-level may help make this feel more natural. Hide the screen that shows your face if it gets too distracting to be able to see yourself speak and react in real time. Focus on the person or people to whom you are speaking.
Uncross your arms. Opening your posture will make other people feel more welcome and relaxed. Sit up straight, especially when delivering an important statement. Your posture should signal to others confidence.
Be mindful of nervous gestures. Many of us tap our fingers on our desk, or unconsciously touch our faces, or bounce our feet when we are feeling anxious or restless. These physical behaviors are tenfold more distracting virtually and will reduce the impact of your message.
Communication via text – such as over e-mail – has an entirely new level of importance with tone when we can’t walk over to the next office and have a light, friendly check in. This means that a quickly dashed off e-mail during a busy day may come off as terser than is actually intended. We really have to take time to think through how our tone is reflected through what we write. Our impact needs to match our intent to the best of our ability. This is not easy—especially when we are busy and trying to work through tasks and send assignments quickly. Thankfully, slowing down and reading through draft e-mail communications before sending will help to ensure tone and intent are clear.
Check in with me for more tips on how to communicate effectively either in person or in a new virtual workspace.