It’s hard enough to engage employees in the best of times. But now that so many people are working remotely, it’s even more difficult to help employees feel productive and connected.

Virtual meeting platforms are terrific, but they do have limitations, such as:

  • Incomplete body language. You only see faces during virtual meetings, so it’s easy to miss nonverbal cues. This is significant when you consider “as much as 80% of our interaction with others is through nonverbal communication, or body language, according to body language expert Joe Navarro.
  • The tendency to jump in. You’re used to solving problems; after all, that’s how you became a leader. So it can be challenging to wait and not interrupt.

What’s the best way to improve virtual meetings to build trust and engagement? The secret can be summed up in one word: listening. By building your listening skills, you show you care—while giving employees space to contribute.

Active or empathetic listening is “the highest form of listening,” according to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®. Covey explained that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

That’s why empathetic listening takes conscious effort and practice. You can build skills by being sure to:

Establish eye contact
Because looking someone in the eye is so important during a conversation, it’s essential to make eye contact before you start talking. Yes, it can feel artificial because you have to look at the camera, but it becomes more natural with practice. You can also show attention by smiling, nodding or raising your eyebrows.

Practice patience
Take a deep breath and allow employees to finish before speaking. Employees will more fully explore their thoughts and feelings when they are not interrupted. As a result, you will connect on a deeper level with your team.

Take a breather
It’s natural to want to fill in the gaps during a conversation. “Yet, in silence there is power,” says educator and inspirational speaker Dr. Judith Wright. “In fact, silence is integral to engagement.” So embrace the silence to encourage more open, lively discussion.

Seek clarity
To ensure you fully understand a speaker, ask open questions, paraphrase and/or summarize what you heard. This enables the speaker to expand on certain key points as necessary.

Follow up
Because active listening requires you to be fully present, it’s valuable to jot down notes after small group meetings. These memory joggers can serve as fodder for personal emails to individual employees or future agendas, letting employees know they were heard.

By actively listening and showing compassion, you’ll build a firm foundation for enhanced teamwork and cooperation.


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