Am I audible?

Vinay Kanchan gives tips to communicate effectively in the new normal

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“Am I audible?” These are, perhaps, the most frequently-heard words in households of employees working from home. All thanks to ‘zooming’ becoming much more than just pressing the foot on the accelerator while traversing an open road. Yet, the more pertinent question for leaders and managers to ask should be, “Am I able to communicate effectively and inspire you?” Though, in fairness, that probably begins with being audible in the first place.

The ongoing pandemic and its after-effects, have claimed another unsuspecting victim — effective communication within corporate teams. Physical proximity, which was once taken for granted, has now been thrown out the room, quite literally. This has severely affected the quality of communication, because many managers still conduct themselves in much the same manner as they would, had their subordinates been right in front of them. Given that the modes of interaction have changed, it is essential to discover newer codes to get the point across. Here’s a look at but a few…

Listening more ACTIVELY

This should always be the case anyway, but the importance of listening actively has escalated even more now. Effective listening involves many things being in place, several of which fall within the leader’s purview to set the tone for. Think being unequivocally present in the meeting, without maintaining the charade of multi-tasking, thus avoiding the ‘multi-tasking without asking’ malaise. Then, the simple act of ensuring everyone’s video camera is switched on. Switching off the camera is highly disrespectful to the person talking, and one may as well not be there. No one should be allowed to escape via this ‘cloak of invisibility’, while others are trying in vain to cast a spell. This may be also helped if fewer meeting, of shorter duration, are held. With everyone being fully present, in the truest sense of the term. Reducing the number of face-to-face meetings, will have a wonderfully clarifying effect on everyone’s thought process and involvement. It is even amazing how much more work may actually get done.

Reading the EMOTION at play

Leaders have constantly needed to figure out the mood of their teams. This facet has assumed more importance in this pandemic period. Many employees are battling severe personal challenges, while still gamely trying to fulfill their job-related expectations these days. This, perhaps more than any other time in India’s corporate history, shows the need for an understanding ‘arm around the shoulder’. However, given the distant and impersonal manner, in which communication takes place these days, coupled with a lack of actual contact, addressing this challenge becomes even more difficult. Managers, therefore, need to be also consciously cognizant of the tone of voice in which their team members are speaking. As anybody who has been in a relationship will concur, “We need to talk” can have multiple interpretations, even if the words remain the same. Detecting traces of unease or discontent, and then calling the concerned people up to have deeper one-on-one conversations is perhaps the need of the hour. Also, this has to genuinely go beyond just the call of duty.

Igniting the conversation with INTERESTING things

Meetings are mostly conducted in a perfunctory manner. Now, however, this dynamic surely has to change. Given how difficult it is to get through to people, considering the present constraints, it has become the responsibility of the leaders to make meetings more interesting as much as they can. This harkens back to the art of improving one’s conversational skills, and perhaps there has never been a better time to pay attention to this vital facet. Keeping up energy levels is a beginning. Taking extra effort to bring alive key points using metaphors may also fire the imagination of the team. These make the point well, while also offering temporary ‘out of the box’ respites for the mind. Even small things, such as “sales have to increase as fast as India’s run rate in the slog overs on a good day”, help make the same point in a more evocative manner. Making presentations more visual also helps fight meeting fatigue. Here again, the necessity of keeping things shorter resurfaces. Allowing for small digressions also helps keep everyone engaged. In the end, think of the meeting as a show on TV— the parallel is striking considering both involve staring at screens. If interest is not maintained, people simply switch mentally to other things.

Supplementing with the WRITTEN word

Previously, managers used to get a lot done basis only the spoken word. That’s because face-to-face interactions added cues and layers, which escaped articulation. The urgency of something, for instance, could also be seen in the managers’ body language when they spoke. But now, all those factors are absent. This leaves a level of ambiguity in terms of what is required, if not exactly and explicitly stated. In many ways, the spoken word falls short here. Getting back to the rigor of writing things down, and circulating it post-meeting, has always had its merits. Penning things pre-meeting also helps crystallise one’s thoughts, and greatly aids the mind in separating tasks and challenges from rhetoric. It helps bring focus to the entire interaction, and this can only help the cause. There’s a great line in The Ten Commandments, which goes “so it shall be written, so it will be done”. This holds true even today, even if cars have largely replaced chariots.

Using the balm of HUMOUR

Finally, a team that laughs together stays together. Smiles are those curves which enhance bonding and collective goodwill. Against the backdrop of what is transpiring outside, meetings perhaps represent a welcome return to some kind of normalcy. And that is certainly something worth celebrating. Using humour often wrongly gets associated with classic punchlines and constructed jokes. To be sure, these do help, but even saying simple things in a lighter vein can bring welcome relief to situations where tension is building up. People are looking for occasions to feel the purging effects of laughter— now more than ever before. The more meetings take that human insight into account, the more productive they will start to become. Just because the matters being discussed are serious, does not mean the participants cannot have a bit of fun along the way. Humour is actually a winning strategy for ensuring better ideas, improved morale, and meetings that employees actually look forward to.

To conclude, these are without doubt some of the most difficult times many have faced. Numerous things have changed, perhaps permanently. It is important to evolve our processes taking cognizance of that fact. Doing the same old things will not get us to our destinations any more. Newer methods have to be brought to light. This eternal urge to adapt to change has propelled us to the perch of the dominant species on this planet in the first place. And let’s not have a meeting to discuss that.

The writer, Vinay Kanchan is an author, brand storyteller and innovation catalyst. His books include ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ &’The Madness Starts at 9’.

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