Effective listening is about being fully present in conversations so you can contribute in ways that are really useful to you and the team, or to your colleagues and clients. Being present so you can listen effectively is an important skill for leaders.
Effective listening on video conference calls
I’m going to cover good etiquette, including if you’re chairing the meeting, how you can demonstrate you’re listening with posturing and visual cues, and so on. But first I’m going to start with the things that diminish your presence and the importance of effective listening. And by the way, these things also diminish other people’s ability – those in a conversation or meeting with you – their ability to listen effectively.
So, definitely don’t go on mute to have side conversations, check your phone, or have online chats with people who are not on the call. Even if you think no-one can see your phone or your hands typing, the rest of your body and your gaze is totally giving you away!
This is discounting behaviour that gives the impression that you don’t really care what other people have to say. And well… it’s rude, there I said it.
Equally distracting is turning your video on and off throughout the call, moving round the room or house with your video on, doing chores… to name just a few. Not only is it distracting, it interrupts the person speaking and it draws everyone’s focus to you (and maybe gives them headache).
And in terms of presence and leadership, well, you have to wonder what messages and signals you’re sending to everyone else on the call.
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Okay, now we’ve got identified what diminishes listening effectively, here are 7 things increase our ability to listen effectively on a video conference call.
#1 — Call from a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted, and there’s minimal background noise and minimal chance of interruptions. Good sound quality is important for you and everyone else. But if an interruption happens, roll with it–life doesn’t stop.
#2 — Always good to prepare for meetings because you end up getting 2 or 3 times more value from it when you do. Especially important on video calls. Just 5 minutes to get in the zone, gather your thoughts, questions and point of view means you will be listening more deeply and feel more confident to jump in and ask questions.
#3 — Don’t be late. And if you ARE late, apologise. And don’t be that person who walks into a room and hijacks the conversation. Drop a note in the chat.
#4 — Video on or off? Except for maybe bad hair days, I would personally recommend you have your video on. As humans, we want to connect with each other. As a leader, you want people to connect with you. You can make that easier just by having your video on.
These 4 things alone will determine how present we feel, how ready we are, how the meeting kicks off, and how approachable we make ourselves.
Once the conversation starts, here are 3 more things you can do to encourage and model great listening on video conference calls:
#5 — Demonstrate you’re listening. It’s tricky on a video conference call because where you might utter sounds and noise that show you’re listening, saying “mmm” and “yeah” on a call can knock out the audio for listeners and cause that awkward “did you want to say something?” Basically, this audio distortion is an unintended interruption that can break the flow of someone’s speech. So instead, nod your head, give people a thumbs up to show your agreement, or raise your hand to ask a clarification question or to contribute your thoughts.
#6 — Another way we can show we’re listening is by changing our physical position instead of just sitting still and starring at a sea of faces on our screens. Staring at our screens is not the most natural way of engaging with each other. In a physical meeting, we’re never staring at 5 or 10 faces in a 1-foot squared space all at the same time. So, no wonder we adopt the frozen stare for much of the call–it’s less exhausting (and less weird) than responding differently to every face. Plus, even if I’m looking at you, it doesn’t look like I’m looking at you.
So here’s what you can do. Rest your eyes gently and steadily on the person speaking, and shift your physical position in relation to what they’re saying. So, you can lean forward or put your hand to your chin. These are visual cues that tell the person speaking that we’re listening deeply, we’re interested.
#7 — And finally, how we respond verbally is an indicator of how effectively we’re listening. We don’t have to respond every time, but what we say or what questions we ask tells a lot about how well we’re listening. There’s lots more on questioning and responding, including when you disagree, in my other videos, so do check those out.
One last thing to say on this is … if you’re chairing the meeting, you need to be the guardian of this meeting space, making sure the call is conducive to good listening, that you model effective listening, actively invite people who are showing high levels of interest to contribute. And it’s absolutely your job as a leader to gently remind people, to minimise their distractions on the call, out of respect for the speaker and everyone on the call and to ensure the quality of meeting time.
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