Make informed contributions to the team by observing your surroundings.
Good work is a product of perspective. Broader perspectives develop with distance. Within this context, distance most often comes in the form of listening and observing, then thinking before contributing.
Are you aware of how much time you spend talking? Within a team, people usually have a tendency to talk or listen. If you tend to talk more, consider pacing yourself by allowing a certain number of people to speak before sharing your own thoughts. You may discover that someone already spoke up about an idea that you had in mind. This gives you the opportunity to expand upon it as opposed to being the one to introduce it.
An employee’s value isn’t directly correlated to the quantity of their verbal contributions. We can bring value to a conversation through presence and empathy.
Merriam Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Stop and look around. The power of observation is not to be underestimated. Previously, we talked about checking in with ourselves: the different ways to do so and the consequences of self-awareness as a leader. Combined with the ability to listen with our eyes, we understand how to check in on others and provide opportunities for innovation.
Internalizing the Need for Observation
Listening with our eyes is a concise concept that can birth new dynamics within a team. Put simply, listening with our eyes is paying attention. It’s a deeper form of listening.
There are many ways for us to listen, spoken and unspoken. When contributing to a conversation, it’s motivating to feel seen and heard. Listening with our eyes allows us to provide that affirmation when appropriate.
When we are around people, how do we observe and pay attention? Where are your eyes focusing? Our attention tends to follow our gaze. Is anyone distracted by notifications? Is there hesitation in the room? Is someone gazing out of the window? You’re not going to hear them, but you can observe them. Facial expressions and moods or energy levels are just a start.
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This is more challenging in a virtual space, as there’s less to observe. Even with video and sound, we’re challenged differently in the virtual environment.
Noticing when someone turns off their camera can be a powerful sign. When the internet is flaky, how does that affect someone? Are we missing critical cues by keeping our camera off? With cameras on, are we looking at the speaker or ourselves? We can maximize time on camera by observing others. On a deeper level, observation will take time with virtual work, but it’s still equally important.
We can notice and pick up on more as we spend less time talking and more time listening. Deeper observations allow us to make more impactful assessments of what’s going on and to connect more, which takes us back to the concept of empathy.
In our conversation with Stanford University’s Christina Wodtke, she states, “The only thing that really matters is having empathy for people who are very different from you, and the better you can get at that, the more likely you are to get the company to work better.”
As we empathize, we learn more about individuals. For a leader, it’s crucial. Empathy reveals a layer of understanding we can use to work better together. In which dynamics does someone thrive? What makes them tick? Is there tension between certain employees or teams? Do they display support or resistance to a plan or idea? When we know our teammates better, we’re able to work with them more effectively. Observing with all possible senses provides a huge advantage. If you’re often talking, you’re seldom listening with your eyes.
Be more present and pay more attention. Our eyes and other senses can provide other inputs that we can use to make an impact.
When we visualize together, it’s powerful. It accelerates communication and combats confusion. It also invites people into a space that allows people to think of things as they develop rather than when on-the-spot asked.
Providing or creating a visual of verbal content helps most people to align in observance. It’s a tool to deepen understanding.
For example, taking notes for all to see in a meeting provides a reference to talking points as the conversation develops when people want to reference a point in the conversation, having a visual offers what some need to reprocess that moment.
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Virtually, we can pay attention to the chat or create a mural to visualize. The fact that something visual is there, even in a virtual environment, increases understanding better.
This isn’t to promote visual noise, rather to offer organized touchpoints for observation.
For visually impaired teammates, a remote workplace presents additional challenges. As a coworker, it’s important to reach out and ask if you can provide support. Do they need help adjusting video settings or getting settled with the tools we use? The team should be able to observe them as they do other employees. Are those tools navigable by them? Is there space made for engaging in conversation, or do meetings consist of constant talking? Are there particularly challenging tasks for your colleague, and would it make sense to switch responsibilities to accommodate their situation? Do your part by consistently offering help.
Building a Powerful Presence
Listening with our eyes can also build a powerful executive presence.
Confidence is too often associated directly with extraversion. Quiet confidence is respected, especially within leadership. It’s acting with intent and believing in yourself. When we’re intentionally creating space, looking and listening is key.
The more data you take in, the more processing you do. The more you’re processing, the less output you’re creating. The less output you create, the more space there is for others to create output.
For people who struggle to create space for others, considering more input would naturally slow them down.
Check-in with the team. As a leader, you’re going to get unmatched value from employees when they feel heard and understood. Aim to listen and observe.
Words often have more power when there are fewer of them.
By listening with our eyes, we learn empathy and enable creative growth.
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