26 September 2023

Lessons learnt from two years of Zoom

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There have been endless complaints about impersonal Zoom meetings during the pandemic, but Lisa Earle McLeod* says it is still possible to build meaningful relations virtually — you just have to work harder.

Another day, another Zoom. As a self-professed people-person, sitting alone on Zoom in my house got old quickly.

A few months later, even the introverts joined in the frustration.

From a tech standpoint, Zoom has been a life and business saver, but from a personal standpoint, endless hours of Zoom feel exhausting and anonymous.

When you’re in-person (together in an office, conference room or hotel) the outside world does some of the relationship-building work for you.

There’s more going on around you, so there’s more to talk about in small talk.

Body language is more obvious, so you pick up on cues faster.

You don’t stare at your own face, so you are less self-conscious.

Yet, even if you personally are ‘returning to office’ there are current and future clients, vendors, and potentially colleagues, who will remain virtual indefinitely.

Here are three things I’ve learned about building virtual relationships in the past 24 months.

Upend your assumptions about virtual relationships.

If you’re constantly lamenting about how impossible it is to build virtual relationships, don’t be surprised when you speak that reality into existence.

Your beliefs create your reality, and we now have strong evidence that virtual relationships can be just as deep as the relationships with the people you’ve physically met.

Sometimes, even deeper.

Here’s why: When everyone went home, many of us realised a lot of the ‘relationships’ we had were circumstantial and transactional.

Beyond the shared activity and the shared environment, there wasn’t a lot there.

Virtual relationships are different.

There’s no propping-up a dry conversation or a transactional dynamic.

It takes work to make them meaningful, but it’s absolutely possible.

Don’t jump into business too fast.

Virtual meetings tend to be more utilitarian.

They’re agenda-driven, action-oriented conversations with an output in mind.

Unfortunately, that often comes at the expense of relationship building.

It helps to work in some social time with a looser agenda.

This can feel like a waste of time when you’re drowning in action items, but consider it an investment.

The deeper your relationships are, the more support, collaboration, and camaraderie you’ll develop.

It makes your action items easier (and a whole lot more enjoyable).

Stop asking about the weather.

This wasn’t fun in person and it’s even less fun on Zoom.

No one forges deep relationships based only upon shared climate preferences.

It’s much more interesting to jump off with a conversation about what you did over the weekend, an article you read recently, or even a comment on the other person’s background.

Forging virtual relationships takes more intention, yet it can be just as, if not more, effective.

Have you ever seen the Netflix show Love is Blind? It’s one of my favourite weekend binge watches.

It’s about people who fall in love with someone solely based on conversations.

They don’t meet face-to-face until much later.

Over the course of many deep meaningful conversations, where the participants are hidden behind screens, several of the people wind up falling in love and getting engaged.

Two couples from the first season appear to still be happily married.

All of the participants say they got to know their ‘dates’ in a deeper way than they ever did on a normal in-person date.

Now, your Zoom calls this week probably aren’t ending in proposals, I get it.

However, people are building long-term relationships and making big decisions over Zoom.

There are decisions about who to work for, who to hire, which vendors to choose, even who the next Chief Executive is.

Bringing kindness and intentionality to what can often be an awkward conversation is a service to you and every other person in your Zoom room.

*Lisa Earle McLeod is the leadership expert best known for creating the popular business concept Noble Purpose. She is the author of Selling with Noble Purpose and Leading with Noble Purpose. She can be contacted at mcleodandmore.com.

This article first appeared at mcleodandmore.com.

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