Throughout your career you have acquired these uncanny skills to read a room. Colleagues and clients alike marvel at your ability to read their minds. Suddenly, after years of being the master of the room, you are sitting in a room – alone – about to have a meeting with 20 other professionals – virtually. Isolated from the signals you’ve tapped into for years, you are a foreigner in your own conference room. You are now part of the virtual work world – you are an anywhere worker.
How are you supposed to read the room when there’s no one in it?
Don’t panic. Adjust your dials – tune into other signals beyond the visual by listening differently.
Turn up the volume – not literally, but rather your sensitivity to the sounds you hear. You can think faster than the person on the other end can speak. But instead of listening more deeply, your mind wonders to other things – you multi-task – or you start to think about what you are going to say in response. STOP! Tap into that mental power to listen differently – more deeply – observe more.
Listen to the words, of course. Especially to the choice of words the speaker uses. But don’t stop there. Observe their breathing; tone of voice; the pace at which they speak; the pitch and changes in pitch, the pauses they take; and the silence. All of these can help you understand the speaker’s frame of mind – which you usually read in visual cues.
Listen to other sounds from the speaker’s room: tapping of a keyboard or pen; laughing; coughing; soft voices in the background. These are all signs that you would have picked up visually – but can now tune into virtually through sound.
With practice you’ll be able to recognize when the speaker is nervous, frustrated, smiling, apprehensive, or distracted.
Tip: Create a visual representation of a conference room, a seating chart for each virtual location represented on the call, and list all attendees by name. Use this to capture observations, thoughts, and signals you begin to receive through listening differently.
try this experiment
Practice listening more deeply by observing your own presence at a virtual meeting. Record your next virtual meeting where you are an active participant or facilitator. Listen to the recording with a pen and paper handy. Listen to your tone – choice of words – your reaction to others – your interaction with others. What observations can you make?
Engage the help of a trusted colleague. Ask her to also observe you in the same meeting at the same level of listening. Then get together to compare observations.
Over time and with practice, your usual visual cues will be supplemented by the sounds and silence beyond your current spectrum. You will again develop those uncanny skills to read a virtual room!