We are living in V.U.C.A (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times. We are conducting the majority of our communication through a computer screen from home - be it, talking to our parents, negotiating a deal or chatting with our loved one. Our world has suddenly become a digital world.
However, we have to be careful to remember to change our social behaviour even though we can’t change our physical surroundings. Online experts are warning of the problems associated with our inability to pick up on the social cues which are obvious in a real communication setting. Social cues are those signals, both verbal and non-verbal, that people send through the face, body, voice, motion (and more) help us to understand each other's conversation as well as social interactions by influencing our impressions of and responses to other people. Have you noticed how in your virtual meetings it’s difficult to decide when it’s your turn to speak. That’s because in a virtual setting, people need to be far more aware of and able to decode the social cues from their colleagues. A reason why it is so important to have the “camera on” mode in all virtual communication settings. This form of social monitoring is critical to the development and maintenance of human relationships.
“The impact of our communication is 70 to 90 per cent non-verbal,” says Khaulah Abbas, founder of Your Professional Presence. If this is the case, then your virtual communication presence is relying very heavily on you and your team being able to collectively pick up those social cues with efficiency and speed. So where do we start to look in order to develop these skills?
Facial expressions indicate our emotional state, what mood we are in today, for example if we are crying, or smiling. As you can imagine, many of these are universal around the world, but many are culturally different. Do you know the differences? We do tend to overgeneralise and make different judgements depending upon how attractive we find a person’s face. So can we believe the theory that the eyes don’t lie?
Moving on to motion cues, or body language is another area we can consider when we are trying to read the emotional state of the person we are virtually communicating with, but remember, when you are dealing with the majority of virtual interactions, the screen view is limited so you need to take extra care to notion those micro or macro movements! For example, an overactive person could indicate extroversion, or could it be aggression? Hand gestures are possibly more obvious, but then in different cultures they have different meanings. All very confusing? Well, recent work seems to suggest that we combine many social cues to get an overall impression of a person’s emotional state in relation to their physical surroundings and attitude towards the conversation. However, maybe now is the time to up skill in order to maximise your potential in this “new normal” virtual communication environment.