Over the last few months, many of us have been forced to change our normal mode of communication from primarily face to face to virtual meetings. This has resulted in both positive and negative implications. For some it has been a discovery or a confirmation that working remotely can be a productive option, for others it is making the best of the situation but recognizing its not ideal.
As the environment slowly evolves I suspect that a higher percentage of meetings will permanently transition to being held in a virtual world so for short or long term there will be an adjustment to communicating with our teams through virtual meetings. I’d like to share my perspective on the impact on communication and how this relates to team dynamics.
To ground the discussion, we first need a summary of the 3V’s of communication:
Albert Mehrabian developed a communication model, in which he demonstrated that only 7% of what we communicate consists of the literal content of the message. The use of one's voice, such as tone, intonation, and volume, take up 38% and as much as 55% of communication consists of body language.
This is now commonly referred to as the “Three V's of Communication”: VISUAL (how we look), VOCAL (how we sound), and VERBAL (what we say).
I would assert that in virtual meetings these %'s change and could change quite dramatically. Without extensive studies we cannot define specific new percentages but just considering the impact is import for teams to consciously manage the shift and resulting implications.
VERBAL (Historically 7%) – Assertion - In virtual meetings verbal will take on more significance to communicate meaning.
The mechanics of how video conference calls work, remove the opportunity for the other 2 areas to be seen or heard, so by default the spoken word (what we say) takes on a more significant role. It could be all people have to go on depending on how many people are “on the call”. Scanning an array of 49 small boxes to see the face or body language of the person speaking can be challenging if not impossible.
VOCAL (Historically 38%) – Assertion - In virtual meetings vocal will take on less significance to communicate meaning.
As discussed above, even in a 1:1 video call, so many factors can influence the cues we generally rely on in a face to face discussion. Depending on the quality of the connection of both the speaker and the participants, tone of voice is likely less clear. In addition, the speaker doesn’t get the opportunity to receive auditory feedback of the individual or group they are speaking with to understand engagement level.
VISUAL (Historically 55%) – Assertion - Remains high significance in virtual meetings but must be very consciously managed.
The reality is in a virtual meeting we do not get to see many of the visual cues we rely on, but the absence of those cues still impacts the listeners comprehension of the speaker’s words. To that end not consciously managing the implications of the visual cues that are available can have a detrimental impact. For example, one of the key element to consider is listeners may get to see your face if you are using a technology that highlights the speaker or you are in “speaker mode” but they see only the face in most cases. So, if a large part of someone’s communication style is the use of hand gestures, they need to be aware of showing a camera angle that includes this.
Also, virtual backgrounds are a great invention to project a professional setting regardless of the actual space you have located your remote office but if they are too distracting it can take away from the speakers communication. Not using a virtual background can also be extremely impactful, nothing seems to peek people’s attention more on a video call than something or someone interesting walking behind the person on the call. We seem to be drawn to anything but the speaking heads in the middle of the little boxes.
In summary, I believe the 3 V’s of communication are definitely impacted in a virtual world and to what extend they are positively impacted to ensure clear communication rest in each of us being aware and consciously managing to improve communication.
In future posts I will review the impact of virtual meetings on Highly Effective Teams and then subsequently the varied impact for each of the four core Personality Work Temperaments that people operate from to fully understand the impact of this short/long term shift to team communication in a “virtual” world versus a “in person” world.