So many of you have asked me: How can we have meaningful conversations when we can’t be together? And what we mean by divided means so many things:
- We’re so busy we have no time for meetings
- We meet but we’re never in the same location
- We’re virtual meeting-ed out
- We need to plan and strategize but who had the energy to do that online
I sooooo get it. So I turned to someone who knows a lot about communication effectiveness, whether it’s one-on-one, in a meeting or for thousands; whether it’s in the same room or virtually: communication expert Lauren Sergy.
Everyone is stressed: here is a lot of understanding that it’s all tough for us. (Deep breath in and out.)
Here are her top tips for staying connected and communicating effectively in these challenging times, and the good news is, all but the last tip work all of the time!
1) Set Small Goals
All too often we want to discuss too many things in one conversation or meeting. Lauren recommends breaking the topic of a conversation (or agenda item) down; what is the smallest focus possible? By being clear on your objective and what you most need to discuss, you can make it a reasonable goal for your communication.
How do you do this? Lauren recommends two things:
- Anticipate “yeah buts” and “what about” that may arise
- Allocate the maximum amount of time you can afford to give it
If your “yeah buts” and the core of what needs to be discussed exceeds the amount of time you have, Lauren recommends making your focus even tighter. It’s better to deal with less well than deal with a lot poorly.
And don’t forget to also be realistic about:
- People might get interrupted
- Everyone needs to spend some time in “banter” (as a social ritual) connecting before jumping into the goals of your conversation
- We need to check-in emotionally and express appreciation (this may be your only time to do it so don’t rush past it)
2) Agree on the Topic and Outcome
Agree to the topic and outcome before the conversation or meeting starts. “We’re going to talk about X and make a decision on Y.” Have the same North Star for the conversation.
Not wondering and getting clarity or agreement before starting a conversation helps with:
- Realizing your outcome
- Reducing stress going in
- Coming to the meeting prepared
- Increases focus
- Enables strategic conversation versus drowning in details
If it’s a group discussion, such as a team meeting, you can do this by sending the agenda in advance. Explain the key priority item(s), ask if anything is missing, and invite anyone to seek clarification before the meeting.
- Provides confirmation (as per Lauren’s point #1)
- More ownership going in for the topic(s)
- Confident something will get done
- Encourages future communication
3) Eliminate Distractions
Just like an in-person meeting, distractions can pull people away mentally, emotionally and physically from the conversation.
It’s easily avoidable by:
- Closing down open tabs and your computer windows
- Telling those sharing your space you can’t be interrupted for X minutes
- Putting your out of office alert on
- Going to the bathroom, getting a drink, and eating before you begin
- Checking your sound, video, connection before you start
- Going into a distraction-free zone
Distractions create mental load and can even trigger negative emotions such as guilt (oh man I should return that call, put that laundry in the dryer, answer my daughter’s question).
You can also start a conversation reminding people what the focus is, giving a quick intro to the virtual system’s features (e.g., how to ask a question), how long you’ll be meeting and anything else that will help keep you focused and stress-free.
4) Turn Off the Cameras
So many folks are sick of video meetings. Changing it up from on-screen to off-screen gives folks a break. Not be staring at the screen, wear comfy clothes, sit in a room that’s distraction-free (but might not have a nice backdrop). Ideally, you’ll let folks know what to expect; if it’s a camera-off meeting, let them know! They’ll thank you for it.
All this said, perfect is not the goal here. Don’t feel you need to apologize if the technology fails or the kids run through the room or other “human” communication oops. Everyone’s juggling a lot. Emotional, cognitive and energy management is taking all of these tips as well as letting yourself and others of the hook. It’s stressful times. We’re doing the best we can. And as Lauren reminds us all if you made a mistake or didn’t go as well as you had hoped, it’s okay; there will be an opportunity for a future conversation.
If you want to learn more from Lauren about video conferencing skills, she has a cool new course you can check out here.
So many you work in essential services and have shared it’s been challenging to keep spirits high. I’ve asked some speaker friends to share support, insight and tips in a new YouTube playlist called Essential Recognition. Visit, enjoy and share!
Want more resources on effective communication? Check out these other blog posts: