By Karen J. Goold
Nobody likes to feel left out of a conversation, or that their contribution isn’t valued. Well, I’ve not met someone yet! The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” could become increasingly concerning during this current crisis. Effective leadership and communication will help keep the whole team engaged, motivated and productive, with well-being at the forefront.
Here are a few brain-based reasons behind this and solutions to improve communication and collaboration, especially on video conferences.
As humans we have a number of biases (rules of thumb) that help us navigate the world. One of those is “distance” bias: our tendency to favor people closer to us in time and space. Think back to in person meetings where one person was on a conference call – they can easily get forgotten about by the group, or can find it hard to join the conversation without others feeling they’ve stopped the flow.
This bias means that we tend to forget or give less attention to those who are not communicating regularly or are quieter than others.
And now it’s even more important to be attentive to the needs of the team, and not just the ones that are proactive, talk the loudest, or talk the most. It’s important that everyone feels connected and their strengths and knowledge is recognized and utilized.
IN-GROUPS AND OUT-GROUPS
Another bias is in-group/out-group.
Your in-group are the ones you think are more like you, you can relate to, they have similar views and beliefs, similar sense of humor. You may also think they are more capable and trustworthy, because you “get them” or they work in a similar way that you do.
The out-group includes those you’ve decided are very different to you, not so easy to get on with, have contradictory values and beliefs. You may not “understand” them, and ultimately not trust them. There may be legitimate reasons for any negative beliefs, but there’s also the potential that you’re missing some important diverse thinking and not giving them the attention that they deserve.
Having people challenge the status quo and automatic thought processes (including group think) allows for better decision-making for you as the leader, and the team.
What can be done to improve communication whilst video conferencing? As leaders, keeping people informed, being transparent and trustworthy, empathetic and expressing genuine concern for those in your team, will help you jointly navigate the challenges.
Meeting Set up:
- Set up some protocols about your meetings:
- send out agendas in advance (good for introverts)
- start on time
- keep meetings short (30-45 mins)
- end early if possible (who doesn’t want some time back in the day??)
- reduce distractions (block out the time, muted microphones unless talking, no checking of emails etc), have the camera on (helps with eye contact, but also focus).
- Make meeting as painless as possible to encourage participation! One technique is to come up with a naming system for the meetings, putting them into categories for instant recognition. For example, categories could be “general, all team meetings”, “project/specific”, “121 conversations”, “brainstorming/contingency planning”. Your team can then get inventive with the unusual names they give each of them, so that they are identifiable on invites and for preparation work!
- During stressful times our attention span will be reduced, and there’s likely to be additional distractions fighting for that attention at the moment. It’s important to understand and respect this and communicate in a short and straightforward way.
During the meeting:
- Take time out at the beginning of the meeting to find out how people are and what they are doing to look after themselves.
- Have some fun where you can – a sense of humor is important still at time, and a relaxed atmosphere will help people feel safe to contribute.
- There could be a range of reasons why people may not be talking or actively connecting. For example, introversion, a discomfort with technology, not wanting to bother you at a busy and stressful time. So encourage active listening from all, give everyone the opportunity to contribute and feel valued, and make a point of capturing all of their ideas.
- Self-awareness, knowing your values and being authentic is going to help you communicate effectively. For instance, work out who you have put in your “out-group”. Is there a reason why you’ve done that? How can you ensure that you are giving them the opportunities to contribute and be listened to? One easy trick is to ask them for input first.
- It’s OK to show some vulnerability. Excessive confidence loses credibility and trust. However, you can express confidence that together you’ll find a way through a tough situation whilst also recognizing there are uncertainties involved.
- Find a sense of hope that can be shared, underpinning it with a rational and realistic plan that is agreed by the team.
- Make use of an understanding of basic motivational needs, especially certainty, connection, autonomy, fairness and status. Be watchful of behaviors coming from stress and anxiety in yourself and others in the moment, and adapt your communication to reduce those triggers.
- Distance bias can apply to tasks too. If tasks appear difficult to tackle remotely, they can be left on the back burner. Find opportunities to brainstorm with the team as to how specific projects can be delivered remotely. Communicating effectively with both the in-group and out-group could provide some exceptional creativity, innovation and engagement because they feel supported and understood.
Self-awareness, watching out for your own stress triggers, and an understanding of some of the biases that could be prominent right now, are part of effective communication skills. Understanding and reducing the bias towards “out of sight, out of mind” can then improve inclusivity and engagement for the whole team.