So, many professionals are now working remotely. (Hats off to all those professionals who still have to work face to face during this COVID-19 pandemic.) Between Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meetings, etc. we are all growing accustomed to working with others through video conferencing technologies. Although, even a few months into this, we still experience those awkward moments hearing your dog in the background or you helping your 3rd grader understand that fraction math problem. The mute button has never been more important than in 2020 corporate life.

Here’s the deal though. I have been in enough remote meetings in the last several COVID-19 months to witness a peculiar phenomenon. What remote meetings have now empowered employees to do is to privately acknowledge, praise, and thank video conferencing participants for bold comments made during the meeting that they didn’t have the mental fortitude or courage to make themselves.

Just today I questioned our communication strategy rationale and things got a little heated. During the conversation several other onlookers privately chatted me comments like “I agree!” and “Thanks for representing the little people!” I replied to all of them with a thumbs up, but it made me wonder how often in 2019 and before did meeting participants sit quietly in face-to-face meetings wishing they could thank that brave soul who “stood up to the man?”

Leaders need to ask themselves a hard question:

Do your remote meeting participants text each other in private chats more than talk to everyone in the video meeting?

Is your meeting culture creating psychological safety to make comments that may even cause a little conflict during the meeting? See more on that in another article here. A leader may never know how many private chats are going on during their virtual meeting. Just assume they are happening and make some changes to encourage group discussion. Not convinced? What if I evoke the word “Google.” We all give credence to that company (whether deserved or not). Let me break down the research Google did for us…

Several years ago Google wanted to build the perfect team. They created a group of researches and named the effort “Project Aristotle.” After a year of researching almost 200 teams they found some interesting results to what makes some teams thrive and others dive. Skipping to the end, Project Aristotle discovered two key features of successful teams.

  1. all team members spoke approximately the same amount of time (conversational turn-taking).
  2. all team members were skilled at knowing how others felt (high social sensitivity).

Need more on this, just google “Project Aristotle.”

The point? Good leaders create environments where people feel safe discussing hard topics, especially topics where not everyone agrees. Crucial Conversations says these convos have three elements: 1.) strong emotions, 2.) high stakes, and 3.) opinions vary. A good leader strives to create an environment where these conversations are welcomed and safe.What’s more, Google found that good team members are sensitive to the fact that hard topics sometimes create hard feelings, but that these team members do their best to keep it professional and compassionate anyway.

Pro-tip for the boss who is wondering if the side chat is alive and well in whatever video conferencing tool they use. For those bosses, pay attention to the amount of typing, squinting, and non-verbal facial expressions that are happening during the verbal conversation. There is likely a lot more going on than what is verbally being communicated.

Published by Jerrod Guddat

I love learning, collaboration, and improving workplace performance. You can usually find me reading a book or opposing points of view on the internet. I typically assume my ideas are flawed until proven otherwise. :-)

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4 Comments

  1. Great point. Work life really will never be the same. The What Google Learned… article from Google is an amazing guide for teams and creating psychological safety.

    As a leader what have you found that allows you to create psychological safety with a virtual work from home team?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. …Creating psychological safety in virtual work teams? In many ways, it’s employing the same virtues and techniques you would in person. Give people the opportunity to speak up. Listen to their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Restate the points they are trying to make to ensure you understand their point of view, and validating their perspectives again and again. Put simply, we are to ‘LUV’ those with whom we work: Listen, Understand, and Validate. That can happen face-to-face or virtually. Thank you for the question. 🙂

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  2. I agree! Yet if I may, can I disagree for a post or two? Two questions relating to two different posts. I’m referencing this post, and the “Agree to Disagree” post.

    Two thoughts/questions –
    1. Should participants in a meeting be more concerned about getting their point across or eliciting others’ thoughts? It seems that the conversation of being candid and engaging in conflict is often about the personal desire to speak one’s mind. Rather than the idea of participating in such a way that others are encouraged to speak their mind. Considering there are some that are more skillful at candor and some more skilled at keeping quiet, it seems the real question of “all team members spoke approximately the same amount of time” is – How does the candid person stop being so candid so the keep quiet person can talk, and how can the keep quiet person stop keeping so quiet so there can be some constructive candor?

    2. Why is Google the poster child for every organization that has ever existed? (you don’t have to really answer this question… I get it, something about a multi-billion dollar organization started in a garage that makes us want to learn from how it happened). Was Google’s success not in doing things differently and creating the space for that to happen? If we live in a world in which, since Google did it, we should do it, then can everyone please support this policy? https://www.engadget.com/google-work-from-home-allowance-221701178.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAChad0tcQAwoD_K6T9wIZZ1PRxLuuWWCh9ieE83dHFTKQCHsTvvP8NnuDYqBz7dFVLD6WolPvhRT8R5GbHN08cACAvmY2hiJBzHoGu6nd-0wvgQhCAuZbDcgXKiQkwMQeokQLqMmTbpEKnjWB04ObhZRNTsnuo_oiStDhHWRMGgW

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise some interesting points Sam. And perhaps a sensitivity I hadn’t adequately addressed surrounding quiet people and candid (or loud) people. I suppose my real interest is in leadership being aware enough that they can have some influence on loud and quiet people and in creating greater psychological safety for the quieter ones. So much of our workplace performance issues stem from environmental factors outside the worker’s control. While some quieter employees may not comment in meetings because they are too shy or “don’t want to say something perceived as being stupid” (real quote from a colleague), others are quiet because of the uber candid employees. Management can help in this regard. It first takes recognizing there is a problem and then creating space for all to contribute. I tend to be on the loud and interrupting end of the spectrum. That is off-putting to many and that is something I need to recognize and mitigate in myself.

      …And I am supportive of a stipend for the current stay-at-home work policies (and not just because Google is doing it)! For what it is worth, when I was told to work from home, my laptop, docking station, two monitors, and desk chair came with me. 😉

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