Looking around, it is hard to believe how much has changed since Covid-19 insisted we step apart from one another physically and devise other ways to connect. While literally this has led to masking, metaphorically we are experiencing a collective unmasking. Systemic cracks in our world have been unveiled, many of which reveal themselves to be chasms. We are left wondering how to connect the divide between us, across virtual technologies as well as between who we thought we were short months ago and who we must now become.
For some, the question is whether it is possible to connect as powerfully through a screen as we might in person. For others, shifting circumstances and upheaval are leading us in search of a deeper connection with self and others. We are witnessing a yearning to unmask.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
• Brené Brown
Connection is what what I long to experience and want to have happen. To create more connection with self, with others, and with the world, weaving together an expansive web of focused energy that can sustain and nourish us all, and unleashing that energy to create a zillion little – yet not so little – happenings. Yet how to begin?
Even before Covid, many colleagues and friends, clients and students questioned whether it’s possible to truly connect virtually. I firmly believe that in this time of required physical distancing, we can connect deeply, strongly, and powerfully through a screen. We can do so with those we know well and with strangers, with one or two or with many.
In fact, I find it extremely painful to believe that I cannot connect from afar. For most of my life, I have lived physically distant from my family of origin. For more than half of that time, we have been on different continents. I may not be in the physical presence of family or close friends for two to six years at a time, yet I feel deeply connected to them always.
Yes, the ways in which we connect are different. I admit that technology has made these connections easier to maintain. In the days when written communication sustained relationship in absentia, there was always that annoying time lag of receiving letters from other continents, sometimes six weeks after they were written. Once, I received a letter from someone close to me, an entire year after they had died! But that’s another story.
Taking the idea of connecting without physical proximity one step further, what happens when a loved one dies? Does the connection stop? Not for me, although it is different. This interaction requires a new level of connection, akin to learning to navigate virtually.
“The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.”
• James Kouzes & Barry Posner
For many years, I have coached, mentored and trained clients virtually. Although the connection is different, it remains powerful. In some instances, clients and I have found it to be superior. Connecting through a screen or over a telephone requires that we tune into all of the channels, paying acute attention to all of the senses.
Many are new to meeting virtually, which can be an advantage as more intention often accompanies learning. As the leader of a virtual team, you can foster relationship in the way that you host your meetings.
Tips for Hosting a Virtual Meeting
- Intentionally find and construct new structures that allow team members to connect informally. For instance, ask people to come five or 10 minutes early to virtual meetings. As they arrive, send them to breakouts to chat as they would prior to an in-person meeting.
- Use a Designed Team Alliance to consciously identify the atmosphere you want to create in virtual meetings. What agreements do you want to make about working virtually? Do you want to keep both audio and visual channels open to create atmosphere and connection? How do you want to be if family members unexpectedly pop into view? How many breaks are needed, and how long should they be? At each meeting, check in to see if the alliance requires adjustments.
- Schedule check-ins and check-outs at the beginning of calls, so that people have an opportunity to focus on the dynamics of the group. For instance, asking – What energy are you bringing to the meeting? What energy will intentionally be created to make the work flow today? What was your experience of working together today? What do you appreciate about how this team worked together? What are you learning about this team?
- Consider alternatives that create a more social atmosphere in a virtual setting. For instance, set up shared virtual lunches, or virtual walking meetings.
More than anything else, connecting in a virtual setting requires leaders to develop the ability to notice non-verbal cues. Remember, 90 percent of the way we communicate is non-verbal. Draw on the strength of relationship systems intelligence, frequently checking in with your team to see how they are doing.
“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.”
• Albert Schweizer
What if the mask you most long to remove is one you are wearing? Apart from the concern and curiosity I hear about how to better connect within a virtual environment, I sense that many of us feel we are standing on shifting ground.
As the world around us continues to shift, we instinctively search to ground ourselves by diving beyond the superficial in our connection with self and others.
Here we are. Here. And here! And here! In all our realities, some different and some the same. How do we lean into the change that wants to emerge?
Begin by pausing in this moment. Take a breath. Be still. Be quiet. Listen into the silence of the longing in your own unique here and now.
- What is it that you would hear in the longing?
- What is it that you would see?
- What do you feel, sense, and smell?
- What calls to you from the world around you?
- Really notice.
- Allow yourself to be lured into an acute sense of fascination.
- What wants your attention?
- What is it you yearn for?
- What is it you want from the world? and
- What does the world want from you?
What might emerge if you were to share these insights and fascinations with others who also long to see and be seen?
I want you
and stand there
as I do
to the one
who has come
out to meet you.
As for me, I feel compelled to create connection, to see and be seen on a deep level. To sit with you, to focus, and to learn to hear, through exquisite attention, the voice of the system coming through you. To stretch towards it. To give the system voice.
This fascination has led to the creation of Sala, an intimate, salon-like experience enabling group members to dig more deeply into our shifting inner selves in the company of others.
I extend an invitation to pay attention to the longing. Connect with me for a 30-minute one-to-one recorded Innerview or by expressing your interest in joining our next Sala.
While masks may be necessary in the physical world, removing the metaphorical mask allows us to see and live in truth. What might you gain be possible by removing the mask?
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 principal of Novalda, 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.