In the time of Covid and attending school virtually, it’s challenging to communicate effectively and seeing each other in person feels alien. The Pearce Center had a socially-distant paint and Chipotle party, and it has made me think about the differences between communicating over Zoom and in-person.
I am new to the Pearce Center this year. I had only met a couple people in person, and sitting in a circle with people I had met through a screen twice a week all semester was surreal. Strangely, it felt less normal than our Zoom Meetings.
In contemplating this phenomenon, I have come to the conclusion that Zoom allows for two strange habits: rigid structure and the ability to not truly focus.
In Zoom Meetings there is a leadership structure. The meeting host leads the conversation, and this is effective in many of my smaller classes and internships, where the host calls on people when they need to talk. Waiting to be called on doesn’t really happen in day-to-day life outside of kindergarten classrooms. Yet, it is a positive form of organization on Zoom, providing necessary structure and giving everyone the ability to be heard.
There is also the chat, which, PSA, everyone can see. Be careful of what you say in the chat. The chat is a sub-conversation, and there isn’t an equivalent for this in real life. In socially distant meetings it can be awkward for smaller conversations to break off.
When meeting with people in real life after communicating exclusively through a screen, I suggest being careful to focus on what the other person is saying. It is easy to fall into Zoom’s bad habits, such as the urge to run for a cup of coffee in the middle of the conversation.
What used to be rude and dismissive behavior is acceptable over Zoom on occasion, but on the other side of the coin is the vital intrapersonal skill of paying attention to what someone is saying. Paying attention is standing there, six feet apart, and listening to their voice while processing their body language and responding appropriately. We used to do this everyday – believe it or not. Now we’re out of practice.
My advice is to be vigilant of yourself and to resist the urge to interrupt. To communicate your points effectively, you have to be willing to listen to others with open ears and, more importantly, a shut mouth. There isn’t a chat box for your witty comments, and leaving to heat up a quick dinner is definitively rude. This might sound like strange advice, but practice those elementary listening stills because people are perceptive. It’s a little more of a challenge now, but it’s respectful and will automatically increase the odds that they will reflect the same respect to you. This means you’ve already become a more effective communicator without uttering a word.
The amount of language that is spread through body language is astounding. It might be overwhelming when meeting people you’ve only seen in a box on your laptop’s screen. Yet, remember that gestures and posture contain a massive amount of communication. I’m stating the obvious because this brings me to my final point: be kind to yourself. We’ve become accustomed in an uncomfortable and stressful time to keeping everyone at an arm’s length, or three.
Thanks to the pandemic, the way we communicate has changed for a while, if not forever. We’ve discovered useful online communications tools and techniques, but we have also fallen out of the practice of talking face-to-face. Effective communication in this way is like riding a bike; you’ll remember how to process other’s ideas and eloquently state your own. It might just take you some time to beam back to a Zoom-free reality.
Written By: Emily Rogers