You're leading a virtual meeting, and you have a nagging feeling that some people aren't paying attention. Let's get real: you're absolutely certain that some people aren't paying attention. You even have some good guesses about who is and who isn't. Here's the really scary part — some of the people who you believe are paying attention actually aren't.
Virtual meetings are complicated. A telephone meeting is different from a videoconference, even though both are virtual. For concreteness, let's say that many of the attendees are connected to the meeting by telephone.
As a meeting lead, knowing who isn't fully attentive is valuable information, because it's important to know when corrective action is required. Relying on a sixth sense isn't good enough. Here are some indicators of inattentiveness.
- Uncharacteristic reticence
- Absence of comments from people who typically do comment on the topic at hand can indicate inattentiveness. To check this, ask directly, "Scott, what do you think about this?"
- Delayed responses
- When an attendee is addressed directly, by the meeting lead or by another attendee, a delay before response can indicate inattentiveness. Some people can mentally replay the last few seconds of conversation, and the delay is just the time this takes. Track these delays to detect the pattern.
- Introductory word salad
- When an attendee is addressed directly, a response consisting of "word salad" for the first few seconds can suggest disorientation. People who use this technique can be tripped up by a simple "Excuse me, what does that mean?" during the salad course.
- Key clicking
- Because typing can be meeting-related, the meaning of key clicking is ambiguous. If the typist is not known to take notes, inattentiveness is a possible explanation.
- Food wrapper crinkling
- Unwrapping food Ambient sounds can suggest
attentiveness challenges —
babies crying, dinnerware
clatter, and transportation
sounds are all signs
of troublecan be a noisy operation that can indicate inattentiveness. Eating and attentiveness to the proceedings are not compatible.
- Key phrases
- Key phrases that could indicate inattentiveness:
- "Would you please repeat that?"
- "Sorry, I had it muted."
- "I'm not sure exactly what you mean. Say more."
- "Pardon me, I just stepped away. What did I miss?"
- Ambient sounds
- Ambient sounds can suggest attentiveness challenges. Examples: babies crying, dinnerware clatter, other conversations, and transportation sounds (airport, rail, auto, bus). Ambient sounds can indicate that attendees couldn't control their whereabouts at the time of the meeting, or that they planned attendance during a commute or other activity. Investigation is essential.
- Biological sounds
- The sound of a finishing swallow, mastication, and other activities we cannot mention here indicate problematic behavior. Address the issue privately.
For many connection types, you can't determine the identity of the source. But some connections offer selective muting of individual attendees. If you have that capability, you can flash-mute an individual to determine the sound source. But ask someone else to do it. You don't want to be inattentive yourself. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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