“How can we show our teams we are listening to them on video calls?” This was a question asked by one of the participants in our new virtual Executive Communication cohort program, an intensive 3-month virtual training we are running for a Fortune 50 financial services institution. Our group of senior leaders wanted to know how they could demonstrate active listening skills to empower their teams on video.
Listening to others is a critical part of our communication skills, especially as leaders. When our colleagues and direct reports see us as actively focused and engaged, it boosts their confidence and builds trust.
On back-to-back video calls, it can be hard to stay focused. I once forgot that I was on video and started organizing books in my home office. Not a good way to show my colleagues I was listening!
As we continue searching for ways to stay connected with our colleagues and clients in a virtual world, here are three tips to be a better listener on video calls:
Recognize what your face is communicating
Those of us who frequently speak on camera know that the camera pulls down your face, making a neutral expression look unhappy. If you don’t believe me, try this: open the video app on your smartphone, turn on selfie mode, and record yourself with a “neutral” expression. Chances are, you will look like you are frowning or bored. Imagine your team members or clients were speaking to you on video and you had that expression – how would they feel? Now record yourself with a half-smile or lift in your cheeks and observe the difference – now you’ll look attentive and warm. Keep this positive expression while on video, even when you’re not speaking.
Nod your head as you would in person
In video meetings, I always encourage speakers to use “gallery view” so they can see the others in the meeting. This helps speakers to read the room more effectively and also helps audience members be more supportive. Audience members can actively nod their heads or use other visual cues in response to the speaker to help the speaker feel more immediate and positive feedback from their presentation.
Stay focused on the camera lens
One of the biggest challenges we face in virtual meetings is speaking into a camera lens instead of looking at everyone else’s images. When you’re an active listener, this is a great time to practice looking at the camera lens so the speaker feels like you are looking at them, and then periodically look down at the screen to see the speaker’s expression. Practicing that back and forth movement helps you both observe the speaker and also give them the positive feedback of your attention. It helps when the video platform and your camera are both on the same screen so you don’t have to move your head back and forth.
After a recent session, one leader remarked how surprisingly important active listening was to his presentation: “When the audience acted like they were interested, it gave me energy and drive to move forward in my presentation, and I found it even more important in WebEx than in person.”
On your next video call, try these three tips to be a more active listener. Recognize how much power you have as a participant to boost the speaker’s confidence and encourage them to continue. This is how we continue to build connection in a virtual world.