Hybrid working and communication
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How hybrid working has transformed our listening skills

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Developing and honing essential listening skills will help us adapt to the changing requirements of a hybrid work life.

31st May 2022
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By now we surely know and understand that being in the office is completely different in terms of interaction with others. There are a hundred different ways we are communicating all the time through non-verbal and subtle gestures and nuances that cannot be replicated online. Indeed, the brain has to work that much harder when interacting online to make sense of faces in boxes, body language, such as it is, and the lack of direct eye contact. 

Emotional intelligence is not necessarily something you are born with. It is a skill that is developed with consistent effort and it begins with self-awareness

However, now we are in a situation where more and more, meetings are taking place with some people in the room and others online and it’s clear that we need to find ways to adapt again but this current process of adapting is much slower than when everyone was thrust into working from home and all together. 

Communication challenges

Communication (verbal/written and non-verbal, direct eye contact), has changed during the pandemic. What are the consequences of these changes for hybrid collaboration when slightly different messages may be given to people? A person's experience can depend on whether they are in the room and are able to absorb any added non-verbal communication, or if they are online and possibly missing out on this non-verbal communication such as the ‘atmosphere’ in the room and direct eye contact.

The answer to this is that we now need to hone exceptional listening skills. However, rather than focusing on specific listening techniques (although useful), I believe we should be developing two key areas. These less outward-facing skills are important to success in the hybrid world and will hugely enhance our listening skills too.

Emotional intelligence and listening

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is not necessarily something you are born with. It is a skill that is developed with consistent effort and begins with self-awareness. It is one of those skills that can serve you well when the way we communicate is now switching between face-to-face and online and combining the two. 

When we speak virtually, we need to pay extra attention to our tone, explain the context, and develop awareness as to how we are coming across. There is a reason why texts and emails sometimes get misconstrued. It’s because context and how we present something are often just as important as what we say.

Developing our EQ is important to understand how our actions and behaviours generally might affect others. If we learn to understand our emotions better, we are at less risk of emotional hijacking (a physiological response where emotions override reason) and therefore, saying or acting in a counterproductive way. 

Most of the time we are not in the present moment. We are distracted, if not by constant notifications and emails, then by our wandering minds

We are also able to better balance social awareness with relationship management. For example, we start to understand how empathy feeds into tough conversations (because we can put ourselves in the shoes of someone else), and we focus on clarity of communication and explanations. 

This will serve us in all hybrid communication situations. We will take into account how others may feel if they are joining a meeting remotely, be more sensitive and aware of non-verbal gestures and cues and do everything we can to set up an environment that enables us to listen.

That means being more thoughtful about why we are meeting in the first place, facilitating meetings and setting them up in such a way that enables people to contribute whether in the room or not, and making sure that each encounter and interaction has meaning.

The importance of presence when listening

Most of the time we are not in the present moment. We are distracted, if not by constant notifications and emails, then by our wandering minds. We don’t listen well and are usually more focused on what we want to say and how we are going to say it. 

When we are present we are giving our attention. When we are present we are more grounded and are going to always give a better response. Being present also sharpens our awareness of what is going on around us. We will ask better questions, understand more and simply be the best version of ourselves.

Taking three deep breaths with the out-breath slightly longer than the in-breath brings us back to the present moment and we can do this any time before a conversation or meeting

A regular mindfulness practice helps us cultivate presence. Breath work, something that is hugely accessible, helps regulate emotion, and calm our sympathetic nervous system (which can easily be on alert most of the day!)

Simply taking three deep breaths with the out-breath slightly longer than the in-breath brings us back to the present moment and we can do this any time before a conversation or before a meeting. We will then also get better at tapping into presence for that spontaneous unplanned encounter which can often be the most rewarding. 

Investing in what matters most

Focusing on techniques and technology in the new hybrid world does not go far enough. We need to direct our energy more towards nurturing deep inner competencies. By developing deeper emotional intelligence and cultivating presence, we will be far better able to communicate and listen instinctively, authentically and effectively.

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