Are You Listening? How to Listen Actively during Virtual Meetings

June 2022:

Active listening is essential to being an effective communicator. It requires you to clear your mind and avoid formulating answers until the other person is finished. If you can keep your mind clear then you can use your ears, eyes and emotions to actively listen to the other person.

In the today’s workplace, active listening is a critical skill that receives far too little focus and even less practice. With so much communication now taking place over video conferencing platforms it can be challenging to stay focused and really listen to one another.
Especially in an online context, listening needs to be active, participatory, and engaging.

Here are five practical strategies to help you listen more effectively during your next virtual meeting:
1. Be body aware
Show that you are listening through your body language. Position your camera so that your head, shoulders, arms and hands can easily be viewed and activated. And just as you would in-person, use gestures and movements to show interest. Smile appropriately, nod gently and use accepting facial expressions to suggest warmth and attention. Avoid a neutral face, blank stares or frowns that might suggest boredom or disinterest.
2. Remove distractions
Position yourself in your workspace to minimize distractions – from a window, a co-worker, a pet or a family member. Turn OFF all notifications on all devices, close all open tabs and clear your desk of clutter and other projects. Avoid getting distracted by your own thoughts. Focus on the topic instead.
3. Focus on the speaker
Keep your camera on (when possible and/or appropriate) and look directly at your camera lens. This helps to emulate eye contact with the speaker and is particularly important during 1:1 conversations. If you’re attending a meeting or session over an extended period of time, be kind to your eyes and practice naturally looking away from the camera lens at regular intervals. Paraphrase what the speaker has said to make sure you’ve heard correctly and to provide an opportunity for clarification.
4. Stay engaged
Work with the content, and the speaker. Take notes to summarize key points, ask questions (either in the chat or with your audio turned on) and share reflections or observations in the chat. When taking notes, watch that you are not looking down or off screen for long periods of time. During 1:1 conversations, tell the other person that you will be taking notes so that they understand why you will be averting you eyes from your camera. During group or team sessions, use emoticons to acknowledge or celebrate an idea.
5. Model listening behaviors
When you are the speaker, be purposeful about how you show up for your listener(s) and model techniques to boost active listening. As others watch you on screen and feel the connection you make, they will most likely begin to adopt similar behaviours. In your workplace or team, take some time to talk about how you want to be with each other when you attend online conversations. And set some norms or principles to document expectations.
Did I change the way you think about listening during virtual meetings? Any additional ideas about how to listen more effectively when engaged in online conversations? Tag Barefoot Facilitation on social media with your ideas!

Gerard Murphy
Founder and CEO,
Barefoot Facilitation Inc.