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Can Executives Improve Listening Skills by Switching off Video Cameras and Playing Games?

A couple of pieces of research this week have made me think. The first was from McKinsey - The Executive Guide to Better Listening - https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/leadership/the-executives-guide-to-better-listening

The premise is: Strong listening skills can make a critical difference in the performance of senior executives, but few are able to cultivate them.

Having worked around groups of senior executives I can agree that they often ‘wait to speak’ rather than actively listen. That’s certainly my experience when we’ve used experiential learning activities like Colourblind® when working with senior executives. Why don’t more organisations take opportunities to ‘cultivate’ key skills through low-risk experiences like experiential activities? How difficult can it be to incorporate something like that into regular meetings, so that issues are addressed rather than being repeated?

The second piece of research : Speaking out of turn: How video conferencing reduces vocal synchrony and collective intelligence - https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0247655 suggested that group problem solving improved if videos cameras were switched off. The research included pairs rather than larger groups but the hypothesis is that you don’t need video support to improve group ‘collective intelligence’ and in fact groups are more successful in synchronizing their vocal cues and speaking turns without video support / cues.

In introducing online versions of our experiential activities like Colourblind®, we recommend that cameras are switched off. The reaction to some trainers and facilitators to this, is often ‘we don’t think our delegates will like that’, or ‘we’d prefer to be able to see them’, or ‘we don’t like that’ or ‘that makes the activity more difficult’. I wonder if this is typical of the learning designer / facilitator bias that inevitably creeps in with a (largely) extrovert trainer/facilitator preference, rather than based on research/evidence? We’ve spent most of the last year online - have many of us checked whether video cameras off might improve group work, including listening skills?

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