Article 3 of 3
This is the final article in a 3-part series. The first contended that the one person in your organization who is most vulnerable to what’s been dubbed “Zoom Burnout” is your superstar female integrator. The second article explored how all virtual no office thwarts her unique skills – muting the potency of some and denying her access to others. Finally, we look at 6 ways virtual meetings short-circuit the efforts of the female integrator by making all the wrong juices flow – and what you can do to get the right ones flowing.
Q: What do people mean when they say, “The juices are starting to flow here.”?
A: Ideas are popping. The volume of ideas. The novelty of those ideas. The usability of those ideas. In sum, creativity is easy when the juices start to flow. The juice that makes ideas flow is dopamine, the creativity molecule. But there are several kinds of juices – each endowing you with a unique functionality. When oxytocin flows you have connection superpowers and can build trust quickly. When serotonin flows your sense of confidence and agency are unshakable.
When the right juices are flowing, your brain can prioritize, focus, connect the dots and make strategic decisions. You have access to an expanded set of options, can enter into a flow state and perform at your highest level. The system is rigged in your favor – rigged to let you win.
But virtual meetings aren’t geared to release the creative, connective, confident kind of juices. They excel at releasing the extreme, rigid, simplistic, black and white, binary juices of cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine that have one simple task: take the complexity out of the situation.
There are six key reasons virtual meetings triggers the wrong juices. If you want more, check out these three great articles that shaped my thinking:
1. “Oh no, another techno-seizure!”
When you see “Your internet connection is unstable”, it knee-caps your composure as you imagine people staring at your frozen face and chuckling at your glacial, garbly, growling. But your brain also finds it stressful watching others enduring these same paroxysms. Both these moments can release stress hormones, leaving you on edge – you never relax into a meeting, so they consume more energy than they produce.
Get your smarts back: name your state
Here’s a gift from David Rock to the world. He calls the concept name your state and I’ve used it to great effect for many years. When you are feeling a sense of anxiety or apprehension in your gut, you can reduce your allostatic (stress) load by up to 50% by labeling the emotion in simple words. Here’s how it works. You identify what you’re feeling on the interior and give it a name, saying to yourself, “I’m feeling (foolish, anxious, frustrated, stressed)”
This cuts the flow of the stress juices (cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine) by up to 50%, makes the emotion feel less intense and gives you back command of your executive function. Do this next time your freeze up on screen.
Source: Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
2. “They think I’m an idiot” Moments
Communication gaps of 1-2 seconds trip your mental alarm - signalling your brain that the point you’re trying to make is being ignored, discounted or misunderstood. When you finally discover others comprehend, it’s too late, the stress cocktail has been spilled and your rational brain has consumed energy reassuring your emotional brain that you’re really not an idiot – it’s the platform that has a hard time keeping up.
Get your smarts back: smile into that space
Smiling releases a micro-surge of generative juices (serotonin, dopamine and endorphins) that make thinking easy, relax your body and act as a natural pain-killer.
But there’s more, smiling after you’ve just tried to make an important point sends a strong signal to your team that you’re a partner – not an enemy, opponent or competitor. There’s probably no better, or simpler way to redeem that 2 second gap.
3. Variable Attention
It’s natural to feel disrespected when you’re presenting an idea and your coworkers are tapping away on their keyboards grunting “Uh-huh, yep, uh-huh.” Why does your brain feel you’re not being listening to? Because you’re not. As Anthony Wagner, professor of psychology at Stanford University says,
We don’t multitask. We task switch. The word “multitasking” implies you can do two or more things at once, but in reality our brains only allow us to one thing at a time and we have to switch back and forth.
So you’re being listened to, then you’re not, then you are again. Your colleagues look at you intently now and again to convince you of their rapt attention, but your emotional brain isn’t tricked – it reads the situation plainly, “I am being discounted here” and the stress juices begin to flow.
Get your smarts back – agree on norms for virtual meetings
At the beginning of COVID, many thought it was a sprint, but it turned out to be a marathon. The point? You train differently for a marathon than you do for a sprint. You fuel differently marathon than you do for a sprint.
In 2019, most meetings (for many of us) were not virtual. You indulged certain behaviors (checking email while others are talking) that you wouldn’t when your team was face-to-face.
In the COVID marathon, when all meetings are virtual, there is a different hygiene required – a different decorum demanded. Take 30 minutes and engage your team in cleaning up your virtual team norms – agree on holding each other to account on things like multi-tasking during meetings. Not only will you make each other feel more valued (making serotonin flow) you’ll make each other more productive, since switching between tasks can burn up 40% of your productivity.
4. Big hairy self-consciousness.
Let’s face it, star performers are performers. They try hard to ignore their bad hair, or screaming kids, but they’re always aware of how they’re being perceived. This is amped up by having to look at themselves in the mirror...in front of others. Always watched, always on, always performing triggers all the wrong juices, chewing up valuable RAM.
Get your smarts back: turn off your image
Conserve brain space by keeping your face where it belongs: behind your eyes, not in front of them. Find out how to turn off your image on the platform you use. Now you can give 100% of your brain cells to the thread of the meeting.
5. “Don’t drop my baby!!”
I have eleven grandchildren so there’s a scene I have witnessed many times: the passing of the fragile 3-hour-old baby. When my daughter Rachel hands her newborn infant into the arms of her 6-year-old daughter, you’ve got to know she wants to receive some kind of positive signal that her daughter has grasped what is so valuable to her. There’s a precise moment of positive contact when you know for sure the other person has grasped what you’re handing them.
Only extraordinary communicators invest the psychological energy to assure the speaker they have a positive grasp of what’s being conveyed. Anybody with an average IQ can get it – only the socially intelligent prove they get it.
Reflective listening is seldom done well in face-to-face interactions – imagine how little it occurs on time-pressured, grainy Zoom calls. We have a primal need to feel heard, to feel seen by others. The sense of misunderstanding or missed understanding tells our emotional brain we are not safe – and the black and white stress juices start to flow.
Get your smarts back: Amp up acknowledgment
When a team member says something that clearly matters to them, respond quickly – more quickly than you would in a face-to-face meeting. And respond more frequently than you normally would. Not every statement needs to be acknowledged, but if you want the right juices to flow, make your virtual meetings reflection-rich.
6. Forced vulnerability
Behaviors that feel valiant and courageous when chosen by you can feel off-putting and dangerous when forced upon you. Vulnerability is one such behavior. It’s bad enough I had to let you into in my house. Now you’re inspecting my bad dye job, listening to my teenagers screaming at each other and silently wondering what the FEDEX guy just dropped off at my door.
Get your smarts back: Get the jump on vulnerability
Early on, our team celebrated the vulnerability of having to meet virtually by taking what my colleague Erin Humphrey called an “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” approach. We gave each other virtual tours of our home offices and brought in pictures of when we were kids with the purpose of revealing an attribute to the rest of the team that they might not yet have understood.
These 6 issues make it more difficult for the female integrator to do her connecting magic, but implementing a few of the simple solutions above can help everyone get their smarts back to save the integrator – and the entire team from virtual burnout.
How to Combat Zoom Fatigue https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue
5 Tips to Reduce Screen Time While You’re WFH https://hbr.org/2020/05/5-tips-to-reduce-screen-time-while-youre-wfh?inf_contact_key=23abbe58aa0a80b432c733eb2a9f04c3680f8914173f9191b1c0223e68310bb1
Your Brain at Work Source: Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
There’s magic in your smile: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile
Multi-taskers Have Reduced Memory https://news.stanford.edu/2018/10/25/decade-data-reveals-heavy-multitaskers-reduced-memory-psychologist-says/
Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 2001, Vol. 27, No. 4, 763-797 Copyright 2001 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0096-1523/01/S5.00 DOI: 10.1037//0096-1522.214.171.1243 Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching Joshua S. Rubinstein Federal Aviation Administration David E. Meyer and Jeffrey E. Evans University of Michigan
Read the first two articles in this series: