Generous Listening Reaps Huge Dividends – Especially with Virtual Encounters

People often think good communication is how we speak and write, but listening is even more vital in good communication than what you say. This is especially true in the virtual world.

Too often, we listen to respond rather than listening to understand. In that case, our minds travel away from the person and their message to formulating our response.

Careful, active listening, or generous listening, is more vital now than ever as we support staff who are stressed. With in-person meetings restricted, and more virtual encounters becoming the norm, it is vital to remain conscious of your non-verbal cues on camera in order to demonstrate you are listening.

When coaching people on improving listening during in-person encounters, we focus on:

  • Making eye contact
  • Leaning in
  • Using open body language
  • Nodding
  • Giving validation and paraphrasing

On camera, some of this can be difficult because the image we see of the other person isn’t aligned with the camera.  I was doing virtual executive coaching with someone recently and was getting frustrated because she always had her face turned away from me. At first, I thought she was multi-tasking and working on something else. Then I realized she had two screens. My image on one, and her camera aligned with the other. When I pointed it out, she was surprised because she thought she was looking right at me.

The other common pitfall that can impede a personal connection is a lag in sound. It feels like people are talking over one another, or there is an awkward lag.

Here is how you can apply active listening skills in virtual encounters:

  • Move the screen image of the other person to align with your camera
  • Look directly at the camera, not the image on the screen
  • Manage expectations by telling the other person if you are experiencing a sound lag, and that it may take a few seconds to catch up
  • Nod to send the message you are listening, and monitor your facial expressions to match the context
  • If you are using two screens and will be looking away periodically, tell the other person that you may be doing that

I had a virtual medical consult last week, and one of the first things the doctors said was, “I am working with two screens. One has your image, and the other has your medical record. If I look away, I am not ignoring you, but I am reviewing your chart.” This was a great way to manage my expectations. Understanding this upfront helped us enter into a more trusting relationship.

It seems everyone is more stressed these days as we deal with months of pandemic-induced changes. Virtual options will help us remain connected safely, so let’s make them as close to face-to-face as possible. Think generous listening every time you enter a virtual meeting room. 

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