Conversations work backwards (and Zoom proves it)

If you’ve enjoyed (or not) more video teleconferencing than usual lately, you’ve probably heard someone say something like this:

“Okay, so, I know this meeting is running a little long, so I won’t take up too much of your time, but I want to quickly raise something and I’ll be fast about it because I’m sure we’re all busy and you want to get on with your day…”

From a logical point of view, this is utterly meaningless.

Worse – the person is saying they’ll be quick but, if they really valued speed, they could skip all of that.

What’s going on?

When folks ramble like that, it’s often a sign of anxiety.

And, well, I’m sure that’s a factor here.

Anxiety is generally up, and communicating over these technologies tends to make folks more anxious than face-to-face meetings.

But that’s not the full story.

See, a rambling preamble like that conveys no information in the words.

But it’s far from meaningless.

To put it in engineering terms, most folks see the words as data, whereas the voice is the carrier signal. The voice is just there to get the data across and you could replace it with some other signal without losing anything.

That’s not what we see though.

People talk differently over Zoom than in real life.

That’s because the signal and the data are the other way around.

The data is in the voice.

The chosen words are the signal.

That’s (partly) why folks ramble like this over video conferencing. The vast majority of communication happens non-verbally – through body language, vocal inflection and so forth.

Over a fuzzy, low-frame rate video link – or, worse, a voice-only link – most of your data channels are degraded.

The only way to feel as heard as usual is to use more words to say the same amount of stuff.

It’s amazing what you notice when you know what to look for.

Folks say humans are irrational. I disagree – everything we do serves one or more of our needs, even if that need isn’t obvious or healthy.

If someone’s behaviour confuses or surprises you, the problem’s on your end, not theirs. Just because you can’t see the logic, that doesn’t mean their crazy – it means you’re not looking.

Fortunately, you can learn to see more and say more.

To forge deeper relationships with people, no matter the medium.

All with a simple set of formulas, as powerful as they are flexible.

Here’s how:

/hacker

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