You may feel concerned; maybe judging that your colleague is upset or angry about something that has just happened? Maybe they are angry at you for calling them and asking how they are when you are fully aware that they are going through a difficult time? You may even be angry yourself, due to the rudeness of the response to your friendly greeting?
You may quickly reflect on the timing and context of your video call. Is it too early in the morning, before the normal start time for the working day? Was it not pre-planned? What has gone before? Did you send them an email criticising their performance? Was there a previous call that ended on a bad note? And so on.
Ok… with this little 7-second exchange it may be a little obvious that something is not right from the response, though often the clues that something is wrong are more subtle and we can miss them for several reasons, including these:
These first two are primarily about attitude and focus… or mindset.
If you are genuinely interested in other people, then you will have a natural instinct to listen and watch others so you can understand them at multiple levels. You will be looking below the surface of the words and be trying to establish what they are feeling and thing, even what values and beliefs they hold. This iceberg model illustrates this depth of understanding:
If you don’t have this natural ability then you may need to work hard at developing a mindset of curiosity and empathy, to challenge yourself to work out how they are feeling and why they are saying what they are saying; rather than simply attempting to get your opinion across, prove you are right, and/or superficially judging them, or their opinions.
The third point in the earlier list is about having the skills to read other people’s behaviour. This can be learned.
The big tip is that you need to take account of all the information coming in from the six communication channels:
If we return to the first 7 seconds of the Zoom exchange, then we have access to 5½ channels (we can only usually see the top half of the body). So the clues that may be of interest in the three words, “I am fine”, are outlined below.
Be careful here though… don’t rely on one indicator… we have six channels so you can corroborate what you are hearing/seeing across channels. You must take a hypothesis-driven approach and test your assumptions with other probes/questions if it is appropriate. Consider how their behaviour aligns with the “ABC’s” of Behaviour Analysis:
Although the word ‘lying’ is used here, we shouldn’t necessarily associate that with bad intent. People may lie about how they are feeling for many reasons:
And finally… it’s not all about you!
Sometimes a person’s emotions might be triggered by something other than the immediate Zoom call with you. It could be relating to a previous event, a thought, or a feeling about someone else. So tread carefully, be empathic and stay curious.