I hear my clients and colleagues complain of ‘Zoom fatigue’ almost every day. Our ears are essential to hearing and learning, but what is it about having meetings on screen vs in person that is so exhausting?
Turns out that listening is as much a visual as an ‘aural’ enterprise. During a perfectly audible conversation, where there’s no noisy feedback or gaps in conversation because of slow networks, lipreading is responsible for as much as 20 percent of our comprehension.
Plus, according to the evidence, at least 55% of emotional content of a spoken message is transmitted non-verbally. When you are scrolling through Instagram while somebody is talking to you, you are not getting the whole story. Body language, minute changes in respiration, perspiration, gesturing and posture is where we pick up subtle signals that we miss when doing meetings online. A big part of the conversation is missing.
It’s my belief that this is what makes these conversations so exhausting – our brains are trying to piece together the bigger picture of our social interactions on limited data.
The solution? Go analogue. Pick up your handset and rely only on your ears. Our sense of hearing developed long before our eyes – in utero, we were able to be soothed by our mother’s voice and kick in response to a sibling’s scream. Hearing develops at just sixteen weeks and, during the last trimester of gestation, the foetus can distinguish between language and other sounds. We are adept at tuning in based on one sensory input – hearing.
Yes – there is definitely the need for virtual meetings face-to-face, but possibly consider changing up your practises: which meetings do not need screen-sharing or visual input? Can shorter meetings be done ‘on the phone’ in the traditional sense? Are you only going to need to meet one person? Well, maybe that’s the one that you can switch to a good old ‘telecon’ (remember those?) rather than on-screen.
Getting the whole picture through one input source, is far better than worrying about ‘hair and lighting’. Our ears need some credit – they are able to give us good quality ‘data’ that justifies using them alone.