Updated: Oct 14, 2021
The heart of the problem
The vicious circle: In many meetings, participants don’t get enough of a reaction from others, so they contribute less and become uninterested. They think others aren’t listening to them or are doing something else. So they begin to multitask as well, magnifying the problem. We feel the need to multitask because we are often in back-to-back meetings. Often the team have not agreed on effective meeting habits or rules for video meetings. To make things worse, many meetings are not well chaired, have poor agendas and are overrun. All of this is exhausting, feels unsatisfactory and is not good for wellbeing. Then we take our stress to the next meeting.
The behaviour of staying focused on the meeting requires participants to feel they are getting a reward for their participation. Simply put, if there is no reward, they will contribute less. There is some good science behind this - for an introduction to some of the issues see the article by Dr Jena Lee.
In a conversation or meeting, this can come simply from feeling you are being heard and your contribution is valued. You know this because of the feedback you get from others, usually via eye contact, body language e.g. nods of the head, and verbal interjections. Because body language feedback mechanisms do not occur easily in video meetings, participants struggle to stay engaged and the vicious cycle begins, despite any good intentions otherwise. The hand signals provide a means to put back the body language and create connection, enabling a virtuous cycle to occur. If everyone is using signs, you know they are all listening and engaged, so you are more motivated to stay engaged yourself.