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5 tips to tune-up your active listening skills in a remote world

5 tips to tune-up your active listening skills in a remote world

Business leaders and people strategists are finding themselves at the quintessential “fork in the road” when deciding how to manage their employees in post-pandemic times. While some companies forge on in a return-to-office format, many companies have adopted either a hybrid or remote working format for their teams.

Bold has established itself as a remote-first company, which allows our team to be set up for success no matter where they are. Although we have had over two years to “practice” working remotely, there are still things we can learn to improve our listening skills in virtual meetings.

As an Account Manager on Bold’s Enterprise Services Team, I spend most of my days actively listening in virtual meeting rooms with both internal teams and external clients, bridging the gap between the two. Keep reading to find out my top five tips to help you elevate your active listening skills in a remote-first world.

Picking up on what’s not being said

When we meet with a client or colleague in person, it’s rather easy to pick up on their nonverbal cues (body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice) because we are sitting three feet across from them. It becomes exponentially more difficult to read them through a screen that is occasionally plagued by pixelation and time-lag issues. Because of this, you have to work that much harder to focus on nonverbal cues to get a complete picture of the conversation. This means providing your undivided attention to the person speaking.

A simple piece of advice is to keep your camera on during meetings and encourage others to do so as well. When you can see your clients or colleagues, take note of their nonverbal reactions to gauge whether or not they're on board with what you are communicating. This will go a long way to help build your relationship even when you may be across the country from them.

It’s not always all about you

In an effort to create a connection with others, it’s common that we share our own similar experiences with someone who is sharing their experience. For example, you may share that you got a speeding ticket while driving, and in response, I go into detail about the time I was flagged down by a police officer. While this is a way of creating a bond between two people over a shared experience, the issue lies in overusing this social tactic. When it gets to the point where every discussion leads back to your own experience, suddenly you’re known as someone who monopolizes every conversation.

Instead of bringing it back to yourself, focus on utilizing your active listening skills to pepper in some meaningful followup questions; “Oh, you got a speeding ticket this morning? Where did it happen?”

Centering the conversation back on the person speaking will make them feel heard and let them know they have your full attention; something that is pivotal in virtual environments when nonverbal cues are harder to pick up on.

The power of paraphrasing

In the world of ecommerce, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by technical jargon that could take the average person a few minutes to wrap their heads around. As someone who regularly speaks with clients about what they want to see for their stores, I can attest to the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to grasp every idea communicated to me on the first try.

Paraphrasing can be a useful tool to not only gain greater clarity, but to make the other person feel like they are being heard and understood. If a client is telling me about an issue with their store, for example, I summarize the points that were conveyed and confirm that we’re aligned. Paraphrasing can help you to avoid any miscommunication or long recaps at the end of a chat, which is when we can often lose the attention of the other person.

Whether you’re talking with a client, coworker, or your lead, paraphrasing can help to establish requests and requirements in a way that leaves the other person confident that they have been heard.

Embrace the sound of silence

If you are like me, you struggle with the idea of silence while having a conversation with someone. The discomfort that you may feel can compel you to say almost anything to fill that void. Add in the dynamic of working remotely and having several heads on a Google Meet that aren’t saying a word, silence can be downright awkward. Especially in a work environment, silence may imply a lack of direction and meeting structure, a concept that makes anyone nervous.

I have some good news for you: silence is NOT a bad thing! In fact, silence can be a useful tool that we utilize in our day-to-day lives, most notably at work. For example, at a previous company, my lead and I were in a meeting with a product team that was looking to transition from an old version of a product to a new one. The product manager was stressed about how to handle the transition with customers. Suggestions were being offered by everyone on the fly, one after another, with nothing that landed with the manager. My lead considered the issue for a few minutes without saying a word. When the room finally fell silent, he calmly and confidently shared his thoughts. Right away, the product manager praised him for his innovative idea.

Instead of filling silence with baseless comments or humor (I’m guilty of this myself), silence during meetings can allow participants to reflect on what is being said and process information in a productive manner. This often leads to dialogue that is more impactful to the topic being discussed.

Don’t fear the silence; instead learn to embrace it and use it as a tool to keep the conversation productive and relevant.

Be present

The best advice I can offer to help you be successful at active listening while working remotely is to be present and stay focused on the task at hand. Easier said than done, I know, but here are a few tips to put into practice.

Take the time to quiet your mind prior to a group call. Before entering the meeting, take a few moments to close your eyes (and any unneeded work items), breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing your stomach to expand and contract. This is a great means of decluttering the mind and resetting your focus.

While on the call, do your best to maintain eye contact with the person speaking as well as focus on those non-verbal cues I mentioned earlier. If you treat those on your screen as if they are with you in the room face-to-face, you tend to gain more from the conversation and have a more enriching experience. Also be empathetic and stay curious. These concepts go hand-in-hand with establishing a human connection while asking legitimate questions, even in a virtual world.

Keep it simple

To wrap things up, here are some recommendations that serve more as reminders than pearls of wisdom; Keep your camera on during meetings to build those personal connections, close those unnecessary tabs to stay focused, be mindful of when others are speaking, and use the “raise hand” button to contribute your thoughts to the group.

Hopefully this information was “remotely” helpful in tuning-up your active listening skills. The world is evolving in how work is done, and it's best to ride that wave and evolve with it; making virtual meetings a little bit more personable is a great start in doing so.

If you want to dive deeper into perfecting your active listening skills, check you these resources:

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