Many people are exploring how to do work differently in a virtual world. Areas of exploration and discussion include communication and relationship building. Is it possible to build skills and relationships via a virtual format? How do you onboard a new person? How do you pull a team together? All good questions. No doubt that these activities are more easily done in a live, face-to-face format. But who knows how long it will be until we can easily work that way again. In the meantime, we don’t have to wait. We can adapt. But the adaptation requires skills and practice.
Since we are having less person-to-person contact, people are being listened to less than they were before – which may not have been much. We have all developed talking habits from not being listened to – including speaking in soundbites, speaking faster, speaking louder. Listeners have developed habits as well – and these can be amplified in a virtual format. How many of us have been on a virtual call and then noticed that the listener’s eyes flicking to the side? To me it looks like they are checking their email or placing an Amazon order. If you are the listener and participating in a conference presentation, this may be fine. But if you are trying to establish a relationship, build a relationship, or resolve a conflict – this is not enough.
Listening, with presence, is the goal. You want to be able to focus entirely on the talker, creating an invisible bubble where you two are the only people in the world. Ernest Hemmingway said it best, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” This type of listening is also possible in a virtual format with some modifications. Distractions can be an issue especially with the alerts and notifications coming from our devices. When you really want to listen, close them all down. Then, relax and focus on just the person and the camera. Imagine creating a bubble where you are just listening to the other person. Even virtually your presence will be felt.
Listening, at this level, takes commitment, discipline, and practice. It is harder to listen when the talker is upset – making it even more important to not speak and just listen. With less person-to-person contact more people have a lot of upset bottled up. Listening with presence gives them a place to openly express what they are thinking and how they are feeling. It demonstrates your commitment to, and your respect for, the other person.
There will be moments when you get hooked by something the talker says, or you didn’t shut off email and the message you have been waiting for pops up and distracts you. This is where the discipline comes in – see the interruption and then quickly go back to listening. This one isn’t hard to practice because there are always interruptions and distractions. So, when they happen, re-focus and keep trying to listen better the next time.
Lastly, practice, practice, practice. Good listening can be done when you are physically face-to-face, even with a mask on. And, it can also be done virtually over thousands of miles. When it is done well – the talker can feel it. Listening with presence, in either format, also means that we don’t have to wait for work to return to being face-to-face. You will have developed a heightened skill that works regardless of the format. We can onboard new team members, develop our teams, make sure people feel heard, and support them if they feel isolated. We can do all of that now when we listen with presence. Marketing expert Dean Jackson says, “Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” It has never been needed more than now. Listen with presence and watch the breakthroughs happen!