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The APTIM Xchange | 5 Tips to Listening Generously on Virtual Meetings

I sit down to start my workday and review my calendar to confirm my schedule. My day goes something like this: 8:00 – 9:00 am strategy session; 9:00 – 10:00 am budget reviews; 10:30 – 11:30 am staff meeting; 12:00 – 1:00 pm internal training; 1:00 – 3:00 pm project meeting. All online, all virtual. Some with cameras on and some with cameras off. For one meeting I am the facilitator, for the others I’m just a participant. I sigh. There is so much on my “to do” list, I pray a meeting or two gets cancelled or rescheduled, but I know there is slim to none chance that will happen. So let’s get on with it!

The first meeting is a success and I’m speaking and actively listening. The team is engaged, clear on the meeting objectives, and highly participatory. The meeting ends with a well-established path forward, action items, and team member commitments. This is going to be a great day! However, as I exit one virtual meeting and enter another, I find myself getting more and more distracted. With so much to do, I start multi-tasking; responding to emails and texts from field staff and clients, running to the kitchen to refill my coffee and helping my son navigate the world of distant learning. In between my mind wanders and when my name is called, I’m embarrassed to say that I have no idea what for. I’m overjoyed when the last meeting of the day ends, but also frustrated with myself for being highly distracted and failing to listen generously. I have not only wasted my time being disengaged, but also that of my peers.

My name is Amy and I’m suffering from virtual meeting burnout.

Careful, active listening, or listening generously, is more important now than ever in this virtual world. In 2017, APTIM invested in a leadership model called The Collaborative Way® (TCW) and has trained 3,000+ professionals on the key elements of this platform. In October at the National Association of Environmental Managers (NAEM) EH&S Forum, APTIM sponsored a keynote discussion with senior consultant Ian Edwards on creating alignment in the workplace using The Collaborative Way®. TCW at APTIM has led to a reputable leadership culture and intentional way of working together to achieve our common goals.

So what is TCW and how can it help to be a more active listener? TCW is an intentional and designed way of working together that enhances an organization’s ability to accomplish its critical objectives. It is a simple model that provides the mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets for effective collaboration. The key elements of TCW include listening generously, speaking straight, being for each other, honoring commitments, and appreciating others. One of the five core principles of TCW, Listening Generously, has been crucial during this pandemic and the shift to greater virtual engagement. In fact, during APTIM’s two-day leadership training, we spend almost an entire day on listening generously.

Listening generously is about being fully present, listening for the contribution/value in each other’s speaking, and remaining open to be influenced. Our automatic way of listening is made up of filters that are based on our expectations, beliefs, and past experiences. The first step is to recognize that the way we listen has an enormous impact on what we hear as well as what is being said. As we grow in our appreciation of the power of listening generously, we can take responsibility for how we listen and for how others listen to us as well.

Every conversation, especially in a virtual context, listening needs to be active and participatory. While there are many distractions and filters that influence the way you listen, here are five tips to listen more generously and effectively in your next virtual meeting:

  1. Understand the “Up-To” and Purpose of the Meeting: Take a few minutes to understand the purpose of the meeting, what you can contribute to the meeting, and what you ultimately hope to take away from actively listening. Action is shaped by what is heard not what was said.
  2. Own up to Distractions: We all have them – Kids, pets, a delivery at the front door.  Whenever possible, turn off email notifications, keep your cell phone out of arm’s reach, and resist temptation to multi-task. Acknowledge when you become distracted and bring yourself back to the present.
  3. Replicate: At times, paraphrase back to the speaker what you heard for confirmation and clarification. Check for understanding ensuring what you heard is what they intended to say.  Appreciate what the speaker is saying without jumping in and giving advice.
  4. Assign Speaking Roles in Advance: Give team members a sense of purpose by assigning them a speaking role prior to the meeting. Create a sense of shared responsibility for the outcome of the meeting.
  5. Embrace the Golden Silence: Learn how to listen quietly without feeling the need to offer advice. Jot down notes, questions, and ideas to help you reflect on what others are saying.

Love them, hate them, or tolerate them, virtual meetings are here to stay. Learning to listen deeply is an important skill, but even more so for a virtual leader. Next time you’re on a call, practice these tips to listen more generously.

Amy Martinez, Retail Market Sector Lead

APTIM. In Pursuit of Better.