Lisa Earle McLeod – What Zoom taught a wild extrovert

Another day, another Zoom.

As a self-proclaimed person, sitting alone on Zoom in my house, I aged rapidly. And a few months later, even introverts joined in the frustration. From a technology perspective, Zoom has saved lives and businesses. But from a personal perspective, endless hours of Zoom seem exhausting and anonymous.

When you’re in person (together in an office, conference room, or hotel), the outside world does some of the work of building relationships for you. There’s more going on around you, so there’s more to discuss in small talk. Body language is more obvious, so you pick up signals faster. You don’t look at your own face, so you’re less embarrassed.

Yet even if you “personally return to the office,” there are current and future customers, suppliers, and potentially colleagues who will remain virtual indefinitely.

Here are three things I’ve learned about building virtual relationships over the past two years:

Overturn your assumptions about virtual relationships

If you constantly lament the impossibility of establishing virtual relationships, don’t be surprised when you talk about this reality. Your beliefs create your reality. And we now have solid evidence that virtual relationships can be as deep as relationships with people you’ve met in person. Sometimes even deeper.

Here’s why: When everyone went home, many of us realized that most of the “relationships” we had were circumstantial and transactional. Beyond the shared activity and shared environment, there wasn’t much.

Virtual relationships are different. There is no way to sustain dry conversation or transactional dynamics. It takes work to make them meaningful, but it’s totally possible.

Don’t jump into business too quickly

Virtual meetings tend to be more utilitarian. These are agenda-driven, action-oriented conversations with an outcome in mind. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of relationship building.

It helps to work in some social time with a looser schedule. It might seem like a waste of time when you’re drowning in action elements. Think of it as an investment. The deeper your relationships are, the more support, collaboration, and camaraderie you will develop. It makes your action items easier (and much more enjoyable).

Stop asking for the weather

It wasn’t fun in person and it’s even less fun on Zoom. No one forges deep relationships based solely on shared climate preferences.

Even though I’ve been guilty of talking about the weather, it’s much more interesting to start with a conversation about what you did over the weekend, an article you read recently, or even a comment about the history of the other person.

Forging virtual relationships takes more intention, but it can be just as effective, if not more so.

Have you ever seen the Netflix show “Love is Blind”? This is one of my favorite weekend watches. These are people who fall in love with someone based on conversations alone. They never really meet face to face. But in many deep and meaningful conversations, where participants are hidden behind screens, several people end up falling in love and getting engaged. Two couples from the first season still seem to be married. And all of the attendees say they got to know their “dates” in a deeper way than they ever did on a normal in-person date.

Now, your Zoom calls this week probably aren’t ending with proposals, I understand. But people build long-term relationships and make big decisions on Zoom. Decisions about who to work for, who to hire, suppliers to choose, and even who the next CEO will be.

Bringing kindness and intentionality to what can often be an awkward conversation is a service to you and everyone else in your Zoom room.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an advisor, consultant and speaker who works with senior executives and sales teams around the world.

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