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In the Room or Zoom? The Misinterpretation Trap

‘I recently saw a post on LinkedIn that said “poor communication leaves too much room for imagination and misinterpretation” and it got me thinking about our current virtual workplace situation. Our previous experience in working with top performing organisations meant that we were discussing effective virtual communication as early as 2016. However, the uncertainty that dominated 2020, has left many of us feeling disconnected / unsure and these feelings have been shown to leak into the ways we communicate with others, particularly behaviours during virtual meetings.

Many of us may feel that we have now ‘got to grips’ with virtual communication – we bought the technology, we have learned how to share our screen in Zoom and we know the height our cameras should be to get the best angle. However, when speaking virtually, colleagues have to navigate the behaviours and actions of others without an explanation as to why they are occurring. In the physical environment we can use context to explain behaviours but

nowadays we are trying to understand the behaviour of another colleague through a small window (literally).

Whilst this doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘poor’ communication, as the LinkedIn post states, the ‘lack of’ the usual signs, signals and actually being in the room, means that there is more scope for misinterpretation.

Throughout this article I will explore some of the common workplace behaviours that were once simple to understand in a physical workplace context but now might be misinterpreted when working remotely or online. Through the conversations we have had with our clients, we have collected experiences and examples to share with you to give an insight into the psychological blueprints of social cues when remote working. We believe that these insights will help you and your team navigate towards more productive virtual conversations in a hybrid world.


Take the time to think about the following scenarios and how you might perceive the situation. There are no right or wrong answers here…


You are leading a virtual meeting and you have just asked your team a question on X. Some members of the group are very vocal with their opinions, however two members of the group remain silent. What could this silence mean? 1. They do not like the members in the group and therefore do not want to participate 2. They have heard the question and are taking some time to reflect before giving their answer 3. They have their email window open and they have been distracted by replying to something therefore they have not been listening and cannot answer the question 4. Other…


In that same meeting, you notice that a team member is continuously looking away from the laptop screen. What could this behaviour mean? 1. Using another form of communication (text/instant messenger), a small number of colleagues are separately discussing another colleague on the video call. You feel a sense of in-group/out-group behaviour 2. Distracted by the working from home environment and therefore not currently engaged in the virtual meeting 3. Taking a break/resting their eyes 4. Other…


1. The individual is not mentally present for the meeting and has no intention of contributing 2. The individuals(s) have been on many video calls/meetings prior to this meeting and would like some ‘screen break’ time 3. Dealing with a working from home issue (e.g. family or delivery) 4. Other…


1. Answering emails that are not relevant to the meeting agenda but the individual considers to be urgent 2. Team members might be taking notes from the meeting 3. Using another form of communication (text/instant messenger), a small number of colleagues are separately discussing another colleague on the video call. You feel a sense of in-group/out-group behaviour 4. Other

This short quiz illustrates that there are many different ways of interpreting meeting behaviour and with remote working it is much easier to lose perspective and jump to the wrong conclusion. What does this mean for more effective hybrid working? Well, responsibility for a successful remote meeting is on both the leader and the meeting attendees. Leaders will need to use skills in empathy (under the umbrella of resonate intelligence) to demonstrate greater understanding and on some occasions, give their colleagues the ‘benefit of the doubt’ - working remotely has its challenges and leaders should be considerate of that. At the same time, those colleagues attending the meeting should ensure they are doing what they can do to be mentally present for the meeting. On our PIVOT programme we help leaders optimise their remote teams with brain friendly practices that will ensure they can make passion contagious again in your organisation.

When your hybrid teams are optimised they are creative, can think for themselves & build on the ideas of others. They are engaged in a meaningful way no matter how and where they are working thus squashing the misinterpretation trap!

In October we have keynote speaker Megan Hine headlining our Leadership Event. Megan is a survival consultant and TV producer, she has just recently finished working on the Netflix You vs Wild which is an interactive series where you and I will make key decisions to help Bear Grylls survive, thrive and complete missions in the harshest environments on Earth. She will be sharing with us how she uses her leadership to master tricky environments so its not to be missed if you are a leader trying to navigate in these tricky times! Looking forward to seeing you there. Thanks for reading.

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