Today, I sang to my grandkids in a family Zoom meeting and then spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to add an aquarium video background for our next visit. My strategies for how to best communicate in a world of social distancing has changed.

Almost overnight, we have all been thrown into navigating our days in a virtual world, and into the need for better virtual listening.

Much of what I teach encourages face-to-face communication – which is now a regular challenge. Virtual conversations and meetings are becoming our new norm – for work and for our personal relationships. It makes good communication even more challenging, especially when it comes to good listening.

Active listening is not an easy thing to do in any situation. Most of us practice poor listening habits even in the best of times. This includes common bad habits of interrupting one another, jumping in to solve a problem, or offering advice rather than listening first.

It gets even trickier if the conversation becomes tense or a conflict needs to be resolved.

How do you improve your active listening in today’s virtual world?

Make it about the other person as much as you can. Think of how you’re coming across and the message you’re sending, but always begin with listening first.

Below are nine practical virtual listening tips:

Create an open and safe environment.

Make sure that when you are participating in a virtual conversation or meeting you do your part to create an open and safe environment where people can feel free to talk without feeling insecure. You can do this by using the chat options whenever possible. Also, encourage and acknowledge input and questions from everyone.

Wait for input.

Pause, wait for input, and give your full attention. This will make people more comfortable, helping them to open up and feel free to be candid and honest.

Face to face is best.

When at all possible view the person/people face to face. This allows you to observe their body language as well as focus on listening to the other person’s entire message without any distractions. 

Don’t interrupt.

Don’t interrupt or talk over people. Model the behavior you want to see in others.

Give reassurance.

Give reassurance that you’re listening to what they have to say and that it’s important.

Ask questions and clarify.

Do your best to actively listen by asking questions, confirming your understanding, and clarifying anything that does not make sense. 

Focus on the issue.

Keep your focus on the issue you’re discussing. Don’t make it about the person. Stay on task and stick to the facts and issues in front of you.

Ask for input.

Ask for input from those you haven’t heard from. Virtual meetings are a challenge for many, especially large meetings.

Be patient.

Practice patience. Communication online is more difficult. A good skill to develop is to simply be patient with other listeners.

Do your part to make the transition to our virtual world as easy as you can by leading the way to better virtual listening.

Remote working is now the new normal. Learn how to thrive in this new world of supervising virtual staff and teams with specialized training for your team. For details schedule a free consultation session with me . 

Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the owner and CEO of Cornerstone Coaching & Training dedicated to helping individuals, workgroups, and organizations become better communicators and leaders. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal Intentional Gratitude