Relationship before virtual results

How do your video calls go? Do your team mates suffer from Zoom fatigue? If so, you probably have back-to-back calls all day, focused on the contents and efficiency – and according to schedule. But the world is volatile – so shouldn’t we be a little more flexible if priorities change? Don’t we need more space to think? How about deliberate ways to build trust and relationships – and ask crucial questions? Yes, say Peter Block, Lydia Schimmelpfenig, & Jeff Evans of Designed Learning. They are on a mission to humanize the digital world. As I love Block’s work – here’s some of their tips to thrive in spite of video calls.

In a way, we’re used to virtual. We often email people sitting next to us. We find love, companionship, and conversation on the internet. We work with people we will never meet and receive coaching and webinars from around the globe. However, virtual contact is not a substitute for relatedness, authenticity, meaning, or being of service in the world.

Developing trust

If you want to have impact, relationships are decisive. If you have expertise and you want the others to act on what you know, a trusting relationship is vital. Building trusting relations is not about comfort or feeling good about working together. Your ability to engage in trusting relationships is the determinant of business performance and making a difference.

That’s why Block and colleagues recommend using trust-building language and practices. These practices do not so much require skill as a shift in thinking and some courage to ask that question.
Really good consulting and leadership is helping others get what they want. It is not so much about getting what we want. Let’s help them be together in a way that deepens their connection, even in hard times in front of a flat screen. Building connection is the first step to a positive culture and better performance.

Presence, connection, and priorities?

In each encounter, we begin with “contracting”. Block writes: Impact begins with the question: “How do you feel about working with me?” This is a question of presence and connection. It allows the other to express what they might need.
In virtual meetings these days, people often show compassion for each other, and ask, “What’s going on? How are your kids? Do you cope with working at home?” That’s great, but more impactful is checking in on the work itself: why we came together. A check-in matters more now the world has changed, and some projects are no longer urgent, priorities change and so do perspectives. Here’s an opportunity to develop trust through asking about what is shifting in the work or people’s intentions.
Simply check on the challenges and opportunities we think we are working on. It’s asking, “What are we here to focus on?” Is that still relevant? Did you have time to prepare? Be honest about what is present.

What do you want from me?

The other’s answer to your question “What do you want from me?” is the heart of the engagement and contracting process – according to Peter Block.
It’s powerful to ask, “What do you want from me in this meeting, in this work? Has anything changed? And what else do you want from me?” What we’re talking about when we get into this exchange of wants is concerned with the relationship – not so much the contents.
What we too often don’t say are things like, “I want you to have a little patience.” Trust begins with the question to the other: What do you want from me?

Block’s questions remind me of what NLP calls meta-communication. It’s focusing on the why and how – not just the WHAT of the project, the agenda.

Another issue is that video meetings compresses time and don’t like silence. There’s a reason why “You’re on mute” was sentence of the year 2020. When there is no sound, we check the technology. But continuous talking makes thinking obsolete. We must learn how to consciously create space for silence and thought. The questions we ask halfway through a meeting — “How are we doing?” or “Are you getting what you want from this?” — are also essential in virtual calls, since we know we are missing more of what is unspoken. These questions are a normal part of the leader’s or facilitator’s “meta skills” of working with people – but don’t forget them online!

Relationship-building questions

How do you feel about working with me?
What’s going on? What do you bring to this encounter today?
What are we here to focus on? Are there shifts in the work or people’s intentions?
What do you want from me in this meeting, in this project?
How are we doing halfway through this meeting? Do we need a break? Do we need to speed up?
How about some silence? Let’s reflect on this question and come back in 5 minutes.

© Marcella Bremer, 2021. All rights reserved.

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