Sensing Senseless in Online Meetings? This Will Help

Image by whoalice-moore from Pixabay

Sensing Senseless in Online Meetings?

This Will Help

How do you build rapport in online meetings? Your business requires you to interact, understand and connect with others. You’ve mastered reading their body language. You notice how they enter your space, or welcome you into theirs. To survive lockdown you had to transfer your business online. You downloaded Zoom, chose yet another password and took a tech crash course, yet still struggle to build rapport online.

The success of a meeting is not only measurable by its actionable outcomes. Many of us feel drained after online meetings. Something is missing. We believe that meaningful personal contact with your coworkers or clients is the key. This article describes how to connect with and understand others in online meetings.

Using your senses face-to-face

You spent a big part of your life learning to connect with and understand others. You apply and integrate multiple senses to pick up face-to-face cues about people’s attitudes, but most of this happens without you noticing it.

Sight and hearing are our dominant senses and the most obvious when building rapport. What you might not be aware of is how much you listen for cues about attitudes and scan faces and bodies for ‘body-language’. 

You also use your sense of smell. Some years ago, I connected with a teenager living in a care home after having lived on the street. I offered to take some friends to visit him when he was admitted to hospital. A group of teenagers arrived at my car, rowdy and aggressive. One friend asked why I was afraid – saying she could smell my fear. 

Research suggests that we give greater emphasis to non-verbal than verbal cues. Even more so when we sense a contradiction between the non-verbal and the verbal.

Rapport in online meetings is not the same

The online environment changes how you build rapport with others. As a result, you might come away from online meetings feeling exhausted, dissatisfied, lonely and misunderstood. 

Smell definitely becomes obsolete. Sight is fortunately in action, but depending on tech quality and screen size, is changed. In face-to-face interaction hands, arms and legs express magnitudes about attitudes. Picking up on those expressions leads to a subtle dance of coordinated bodily communication. But in online meetings you probably see only the face, neck and shoulders, providing less than half the usual visual cues. 

Picture clarity is also restricted. Even on a high def screen you may have limited access to facial expressions. Your sense of hearing might be challenged. For instance, time lag from poor internet reception will influence the flow of conversation.

At first we might consider ditching zoom meetings because of these limitations. But online interactions are not going away. The benefits of reduced long distance travel are great: the environment, families and time pressures, to name a few. And besides, this rush to online meetings is sudden, and unprepared. New skills take time and practice.

But all is not lost…

With the following tips, you can make sure to use the fullness of your senses to connect online. 

  • Recognise how your senses influence your ability to communicate. 
  • Don’t take connection for granted. 
  • Do something specific to connect and understand. 
  • Acknowledge that the mind and the body through which it is expressed are inseparable.
  • Remember understanding is a two-way thing.

How to send the message you want 

Attitude counts as much as, if not more than knowledge. The mind is present in and through the body. Hence, attitudes experienced in your mind are expressed through gesture, posture and tone of voice. 

In this way micro expressions flit across your face, giving hints of your inner experience to others. Therefore, to understand another, and they you, ensure that you set up your camera to show your face and a portion of your upper body. Ensure that the light source shows your face to best effect, and request that the people you meet with do the same. Don’t hide yourself by staying a meter and a half away from your camera, be willing to lean in by showing others your face. Also listen to how your voice comes across online. When you are too close to the microphone it distorts the voice, making it sharp to listen to.  

Facial expressions might communicate attitudes you would rather keep to yourself. To send the message you want requires you to be aware of how your attitude reflects in your gesture and tone of voice. Self-empathy is a useful practice to bring awareness to your experiences, thoughts and feelings. In self-empathy we sense into our own wellbeing, body position and movement to know our inner world.

How to build rapport in online meetings

Mutual understanding is something to cultivate. Here are a few of the techniques we apply in Empathic Intervision.

Active Sensing. Much of day-to-day sensing happens passively. An impression imprints itself on our sense organ, but we do not notice it. We can however sense actively, by acknowledging the importance of gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.

Connecting with kinesthetic empathy. With self-empathy we become aware of our inner world through our bodily experiences and corresponding gesture or movement. To share the  gestures or movements with each other online and then move in synchrony, we share how we show up to a meeting and create a new connection.

Empathic listening. Empathic listening applies more than just your sense of hearing to understand another person. A sense of hearing picks up the vibrational quality of sound. Within that we also sense a thought or concept through the choice of words and intonation and a tone and meaning which might be sharp or harsh or soft and gentle. Furthermore, meaning is conveyed through emphasis, or lack thereof, placed on words. Being alert to tone and meaning, we gain an impression of the inner experience and attitude of someone.

We also sense the being of the other person. Are they present? Or distracted? Perhaps enthusiastic, bored or frustrated? What does this tell us about how connected we are or whether they feel understood?

You’ll be energized for the task…

When you come out of an online meeting feeling heard and having heard others, you will have actionable outcomes to work with. More important, you will have fed everyone’s need to connect, leaving you energized to continue with what is next. 

These techniques, useful to gain a more nuanced understanding of others online, are also useful to build rapport face-to-face. When we get back to relative normality post COVID-19, you might try them there too.  Please share with us your experiences and comments on @EIntervision 

What we feel with Self-Empathy


What we feel with Self-Empathy

The Idea

Sometimes we feel something but we don’t really notice we do. With this exercise we are going to explore our feelings together.


You will need:

  • Yourselves and…
  • Some colouring pencils and paper


Let’s play!

  1. Sit together, not touching each other and close your eyes
  2. Let’s start by taking some deep slow breaths, exhaling slowly through your mouths.
  3. Count how long it takes you: four seconds to breath in, five seconds to breath out.
  4. Now feel inside your body: do you notice a place where the feeling is stronger?
  5. Put your hand on that place and see what it feels like
  6. Maybe the feeling has a colour? What colour do you see?
  7. Maybe the feeling has a shape? Can you make the shape with your hands?
  8. The feeling probably also has a name. What name would you give it?
  9. Open your eyes and show us what you felt: can you draw it on the paper? Don’t forget to give it the colour and the name as well!

Like playing Empathy? Check out the other games here.