Most of you shifted from in-person to virtual communication during the pandemic. Once you’re released from the pandemic restrictions, you’ll shift back. But you won’t shift back far enough or fast enough. And, as discussed last week, simply restoring your culture after the pandemic is doomed to fail. You have to evolve it. How you communicate is a core plank in your culture. Write for one-way communication. Call or video for two-way. And be in-person to build or rebuild relationships based on active listening, trust, and respect.

  • Writing, texting, or emailing works for sharing information and ideas.
  • Phoning adds tone and real-time back and forth.
  • Video adds facial expressions on top of tone and words – and is ever-more accessible.
  • In-person, live communication where you’re breathing the same air and engaging your senses of smell, feel, and taste is important for relationship-building through active listening as the basis for trust and respect.

Words/Tone/Facial Expression

Many are familiar with the 10-35-55 rule suggesting 10% of communication is in the words, 35% is in the tone and 55% is in the body language. Albert Mehrabian’s actual study, which he described in “Silent messages: Implicit communication of emotion and attitudes,” found that:

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken,
  • 38% of it is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said),
  • 55% of it is in facial expression.

Not all listening is the same

Patricia Mulvania has some helpful thoughts on the importance of listening, and especially active listening as the basis for trust and respect.

“Passive listening is little more than hearing. Passive listening is listening without reacting: allowing someone to speak, without interrupting. Not doing anything else at the same time, and yet not really paying attention to what’s being said. Passive listening is one-way communication where the receiver doesn’t provide feedback or ask questions and may or may not understand the sender’s message.

Active listening includes responses that demonstrate that you understand what the other person is trying to tell you about his or her experience. This is a communication technique that’s very different from the passive or unfocused listening that we often adopt in everyday conversation.

When you accurately reflect back to a person what’s been said, you show that you’ve been listening—not just hearing—and that you genuinely understand the feeling/s or message/s they are trying to convey. This creates an environment that allows the speaker to go deeper, and sometimes even to come to new realizations. It’s the basis for trust and respect.

Active listening is a conscious effort that demands empathy, effort, attention, and lots of practice.”

Safety and Efficiency

The pandemic has forced us all to curtail some live interactions and shift to video, phone, or written words. The pain and loss have been incalculable.

On the other hand, there are real, tangible time and money savings to doing less travel.

Do you see the post-pandemic problem coming down the pike to run you over?

As traveling to in-person meetings becomes safe again, it will still require an investment in time and money. And some will weigh those calculable investments higher than they do the incalculable benefits of in-person meetings. Virtual meetings are always going to be more efficient. And they are going to be less effective in building trusting, respectful relationships.

Suggested Guidelines

  1. Invest in in-person meetings to build trusting, respectful relationships. This is especially important for first meetings and emotionally-charged encounters. Invest in these as an executive onboarding into a new role, when delivering news that will impact people emotionally – either positively or negatively – when starting up new teams, new initiatives, or the like – essentially, emotional pivot points.
  2. Leverage phone and video to build mutual understanding. The tradeoff here is between convenience and intimacy. Mass conference calls are more convenient. People can dial in while doing other things and pay attention to what they want. One-on-one videos are the most intimate, almost approaching the impact of being in-person.
  3. Utilize written words when “good enough” is all you need, being ever-mindful of the limitations of communicating without tone, facial expression, or the possibility of active listening.
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