Over the past two years, we’ve come to rely heavily on using video in our meetings with others. Interestingly, research suggests that video is helpful for some types of interactions, and less so for others. It can actually impair our ability to focus, think, and communicate effectively. As we navigate post-pandemic working life, when might it be beneficial to consider turning the video off?
Our highly sensitive social brains pay close attention to monitoring others’ perceptions of us. Even the slightest visual cues suggesting disapproval or conflict impairs our executive functions and can limit our capacity to think clearly. Conversations about someone’s performance, that are anticipated to be difficult, may be best be delivered without video, providing an opportunity for the other person to feel more psychologically safe, reducing the impact of experiencing a knock to their sense of status. The less our brain has to focus on while managing our behavioral responses in front of another, especially someone of higher status than ourselves, the more cognitive resources we have for effectively processing and responding to feedback.
When multiple perspectives, brainstorming and information sharing is required, it helps if we can see people during those meetings. Our brain non-consciously picks up on the non-verbal cues of others to gauge when to interject, ask a question, or when someone else wants to speak. This can facilitate turn-taking and organic idea sharing, leading to a more satisfying experience and better collaborative outcomes.
Deep thinking and reflection
On the other hand, deeper reflection, and personal insight, requires something very different: Less, if any, visual stimulation. Have you ever noticed how you often close your eyes when trying to remember or think through something? As much as 80% of our brain’s neurons are said to be associated with processing visual stimuli. That’s a lot of continuous electrical activity in our brain when we are screen-focused! Innovative thinking and reflection actually require us to notice our fragile and discreet neural connections. Such ‘low volume’ connections in our brain often go ‘unheard’ due to the noise caused by constant stimulation of our brain by our external environment. Research suggests we have more insights and ‘aha!’ moments when we are away from the computer screen, focusing on very little at all. Consider proposing audio-only, or just closing your eyes, next time you need to reflect quietly on something.
Our ability to filter out unwanted stimuli decreases as we age. The person onscreen who has things going on in the background, whether it’s people walking by, or some repetitive movement or ambiguous facial expression, or even seeing our own face on screen – can be enough to distract our focus for an entire meeting. This is particularly challenging if we are presenting, teaching, or having to memorize large amounts of information in a call. The pandemic has rightly required us to allow babies, pets, spouses, and domestic life to enter our screens each day. If focus is essential to you in a particular meeting, consider helping out your brain by turning your ability to see everyone else – off.
Our next blog will look at research-proven ways to achieve our goals.