In the dramatic shift to an entirely new way of working, hiccups are to be expected. We are settling in, adjusting to a reality of physical distancing, virtual workplaces, and distributed teams. Still, it feels like something is missing. A certain buzz imbibed from the collective energy we create when we are together.
What is it that we are longing for? The soaking-in of atmosphere, unexpected conversations in the hallway or on the way into the conference room, bumping into one another in the elevator, water cooler conversations. A sense of community.
Does it feel like your team members are holding their breath, waiting for the time when they can experience that collective vibe again?
It’s all still there, this energy, the essence of connection. Even in a virtual setting, we can still drink in the energy of a group and be emotionally energized by them in return. Whether you work in a partnership, as a team member or as part of an organization, creating a sense of energy and community through a screen is entirely possible.
All that we need to do is to expand the emotional aperture.
To strengthen our virtual connection, we must become more:
- knowledgeable of how energy is created, transmitted and transferred through expressed emotions and moods
- aware of how we predict emotions in self, others and in the collective
- intentional in reading and acknowledging emotional energy with non-attachment
- and skilled in working with that energy in simple ways – and doing so virtually.
In fact, I believe leaders and teams which succeed in developing the knowledge, awareness, intention and skill to co-create emotional energy in virtual settings will become super-sensors in the physical setting.
It’s the silver lining in this brave new world we find ourselves in. Imagine what this might mean for our organizations, communities, families and world going forward.
Tip 1 | Include casual interaction in your routines
Researcher Smaranda Boros conducts experiments on emotional awareness within groups. Her work reveals that when groups develop the competency of paying attention to and acknowledging the atmosphere, mood or climate of a group, they ultimately perform better.
Boros’ research found that groups can achieve this two different ways. Members may already be natural at or skilled with reading and working with emotions. Alternatively, the group simply introduces norms to develop this awareness, such as regular check-ins to see how everyone is doing.
Boros recommends making it routine to reach out to other team members for no reason. Those ‘no-purpose’ interactions build friendly bonds, share important information that can get lost along the way, and help address unspoken conflicts. Working remotely means that what was once a water-cooler conversation must now become a virtual coffee break.
Cultivating an awareness of what is happening on an emotional level can only benefit your team.
Tip 2 | Recognize the emotional atmosphere
How do you consciously acknowledge the emotional atmosphere? As you begin a virtual meeting, check in by asking these questions:
- What’s your personal weather?
- What’s present for you?
- What energy are you bringing to this meeting today?
- What energy do you intend to step into for the sake of this work today?
- Complete these sentences with one word:
My head is …..
My heart is…
My gut is….
- What’s your best hope and your worst fear for the work we are doing today?
- What do we need to move closer to our best hopes?
If you are working as a team, the next step is to have team members sense into these same questions in relation to the entire group.
Often our emotional energy field is not a simple sum of individual parts, but something much greater than that.
As a leader, you can step into this work more fully by focusing on reading emotions virtually. The process is very similar to how you read emotions in person. It just takes more intention and effort to do this with skill in a virtual setting. Be present in the moment, listen and observe the tiny signals that your team members are sending out.
You may find that it helps to remove yourself from the equation. Adjust your platform settings so that you don’t see yourself, and see if it helps you to focus more fully on what’s happening with others.
3 | Keep the channels open
Have you ever found it difficult to assess tone and mood when reading written communications, or even when speaking to someone without being able to see them?
Through exhaustive research, psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett has discovered that emotions do not overtake us. Our brains tap into a multitude of external and internal signals to predict the emotion we may feel.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, in addition to hearing the words that are spoken we analyze body language, facial expressions, auditory hints such as tone and pitch, and interosceptive (physiological) sensations. Taken in context, these signals help us decide how to respond based on past experience.
Expand your emotional aperture by staying fully present in the moment, and keeping video and audio channels open. Your team needs to note the shifts in posture, and to hear the sighs or even the silence that suggests something is wanting to be said.
If the video is off and the mute is on, we lose the subtle, real-time cues that provide feedback to our brains and allow us to connect with the group energy.
4 | Work as a team to set expectations
Our brains are wired to predict. This means that intentionally setting expectations around the way we want to work together lays the groundwork for creating exactly that emotional climate. You may be surprised by how little time it takes to establish these expectations.
“Be the architect of your own experience.”
• Lisa Feldman Barrett
At the beginning of each meeting, work as a team to identify the atmosphere that you intend to create. Since our brains are predicting machines, setting that expectation upfront, checking in regularly throughout the meeting, and concluding the meeting with a final check helps to cement the expectation into the reality that we create.
5 | Expand your relationship systems intelligence
More than ever, we need a new kind of leadership – one that taps into and creates productive emotional energy in individuals, collective groups and teams. Systems coaches are well-versed in creating this environment.
If you want to draw that buzz of energy into your virtual meetings, consider relationship systems intelligence training. All of the above tips draw on principles of relationship systems intelligence. Developing this skillset helps you to identify the collective energy of your team, and channel it into shared purpose and identified goals.
Is it time to expand the emotional aperture of your team?
Relationship systems intelligence training is available through our public (ORSC series) and our highly customized, in-house (RSI@Work) courses. Systems and team coaching, mentoring and supervision are also available through our varied and integrated programming.
Relationship systems intelligence training is available through our public ORSC series and our highly customized, in-house RSI@Work courses. Systems and team coaching, mentoring and supervision are also available through our varied and integrated programming.
WRITTEN BY: Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., who leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As director of Novalda and CRR Canada, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. Kerry is privileged to be CRR Global’s Canadian partner, bringing the magic-making ORSC training across the country.
Question | Does your team have a virtual version of casual water-cooler conversations?
We now offer CRR Global’s groundbreaking ORSC training virtually. Learn more.
Want to explore these ideas further?
Whether you’re meeting virtually or in-person, this tool can help in acknowledging the emotional field of your team.