With Covid, we’ve all been spending quite a bit of time in virtual meetings. Using mindfulness during COVID is especially important to help us feel more connected and notice great moments that can otherwise pass by. I’ve found that without some adjustments, the quality of personal connection in virtual meetings can suffer from what I’ve grown accustomed to in live meetings. The good news is that with a little tweaking of some mindful practices and communication skills, you can indeed create connections and have rich experiences in virtual meetings. Here are some things I’m doing that might be helpful for you as well.
Note: A bigger discussion on this can be found in the paper 8 Ways to Be More Mindful In Virtual Meetings.
Get Mindful Before You Start
Virtual meetings provide an excellent opportunity to be alone and get mindful before a meeting. It’s a great help to gather your bits before you go online. Just take a minute before you click Join the Meeting and think about what you’re getting ready to do. Take a breath. Notice how you’re feeling. Think about who’s attending and remind yourself to be present. I like to pre-visualize the meeting screen and give myself a moment to consider each person attending. How does it feel? What do I have going on with them? What topics am I expected to address? Still angry about that last email from someone? It’s all good. Just part of the landscape you are about to enter. There are neurological reasons for this. Pre-visualizing your meeting and thinking it through a bit sets you up for a smoother transition to the meeting environment once it begins.
In a face-to-face meeting, we’re all in the same room having the same environmental experience. That’s not so with virtual meetings. Each person is in a unique environment and this has a significant impact on the conversation and each individual’s experience. While something is lost here, something is gained. One of the things I have grown to appreciate is that in virtual meetings with video, you get to peer for a while into people’s personal spaces – spaces you don’t usually see, yet are very much part of their everyday life. In this way, you learn something about another person’s life is like. Something that was previously private or at least, not visible to you in your day-to-day engagement with them. In a way, we are all a bit more vulnerable when people can see your kitchen or home office. It’s personal.
There is far less non-verbal information available in a virtual meeting with video than in a live meeting. As a result, whatever you can see has an amplified significance. Respecting this, you would be wise to take some time to ensure you have good lighting, check your camera frame for what others are seeing, and keep an eye on how you look in your video feed. Make sure your face is in the frame!
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who have only half a face in the picture, and I’ve noticed that it changes how I interact with them. I can’t help but wonder, “don’t they notice?” “Don’t they care if I (or we) can see them?” “Why don’t they adjust it?” “They look silly with only a nose and eyes.” If those questions start to get in my way of being present with them, I will say something like, “Stacey, before we proceed, it would help me if I can see you better. Can you adjust the picture to have more of you in the frame?” Be brave about asking for what helps you create better connections.
During a meeting, avoid looking away from the camera or engaging in other activities for an extended period. In one virtual meeting I attended, the group leader spent the best part of the hour checking email, sitting sideways to the camera. The group felt pretty dismissed by his behavior and it had a significant adverse effect on the organization. Don’t be that guy. Be aware that your non-verbal behavior speaks volumes. Pay attention, mindfully of course, to the people who are giving their time to be present.
Co-ordinating who speaks
In an online group meeting, you may have noticed it’s not as easy to figure out who will speak next as it is in a face-to-face meeting. I believe this is because of the missing body language clues mentioned earlier. People are pretty gracious about this in general, but in a meeting of any size, it helps a lot to have a coordinator who notes who wants to speak then directs the activity, “Mark, then Cyrus, then Sassan.” Another tip is to slow it down a bit and give a breath between comments, so collision for focus isn’t as likely.
Take a mindful moment before the meeting and bring that with you when the meeting starts. Notice the rooms you see and people’s environment. It can be quite helpful to see a bit of their private world. Realize that you have limited non-verbal information and notice how that changes the flow of the conversation. Give extra attention to your video appearance in the meeting, realizing that how you “present” to people influences the way they communicate with you. Finally, take note and take charge, if necessary, if people start speaking simultaneously. This is easy to get out of hand and is best to intervene early. Often, slowing things down yields great benefits in quality and productivity.
The Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh is often quoted saying, “If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence.” I love this quote and, if I may be so bold, offer that you needn’t reserve your presence for loved ones. Your relationships and conversations with co-workers, colleagues, and casual friends will benefit immensely from your intentional presence and mindfully applied communications skills. The same high-quality connection and conversations that seem easier in live meetings can be achieved virtually as well – with some mindful adjustments.
There are some expanded thoughts on this topic in the paper: 8 Ways to Be More Mindful In Virtual Meetings.