I was surprised when I saw the headlines of the New York Times on April 29, 2020, it said, “Why is Zoom Terrible.” I have been using Zoom for our remote training for a number of years and when Covid hit, I thought, what a perfect way for clients to transition their in-person facilitation to remote learning and not miss a step.
Then I read the article and now I understand what the author, Kate Murphy, is saying and yes, I agree now. Yes, it is quite fascinating that all of this is happening to our brain and without us even knowing. When we “zoom” together and watch each other like The Brady Bunch or as we scroll through the pages and pages of gallery view pictures, we focus on how we look, or how others look, or the different and interesting virtual backgrounds or even get hung up on the blocking, freezing and other technical difficulties that are occurring.
According to psychologists, computer scientists and neuroscientists, as our brain focuses on these social cues and tries to fill in the gaps to make sense of the disorder, we become tired, wearied, spent and drained without even knowing why, according to the article written by Murphy.
It is true, Zoom (and other remote platforms) is amazing for grandparents to read stories to their grandchildren or show off your latest creation for dinner, or even de-stress for a Friday “happy hour”, but if you want to truly communicate or learn something that takes skill and concentration, Zoom is not your best bet. As a facilitator who specializes in interpersonal communication, it’s hard to “read” people’s emotions, non-verbal cues and facial expressions even in person, let alone online with many people on the call. Murphy suggests, “because human beings are exquisitely sensitive to one another’s facial expressions and so when those telling twitches all but disappear on pixelated video or, worse, are frozen, smoothed over or delayed to preserve bandwidth, not only does this mess with our perception, but it also plays havoc with our ability to mirror.”
When we speak with others in person we can feel and read their emotions more easily. But when we are remote, it is much harder to read people and understand not only their non-verbal cues but also their body language. Albert Mehrabian studied personal communication in the 1970s. His findings show that 55% of communication is derived from the speaker’s body language. If we are missing the speaker’s gestures, posture, eye contact and other expressions, then are we only receiving half of the message? How does one learn intricate skills or communicate effectively if this is the case?
Experts share that “on the phone, no facial cues are better than faulty ones.” Our brain doesn’t have to work so hard, we are not focusing on ourselves and truly it is a mouth that is right next to another person’s ear. Pretty close, I might add.
And so after reading the article, I have concluded that using remote learning is definitely critical now and will continue to be critical, however, making sure that you are observant and skilled in gaining trust and being mindful of your communication including, tone of voice, pace and facial gesture. Virtual communication is not going away but make sure that other modes of communication are also used including phone, email, google hangouts, etc. will make your communication richer and varied.