If you’re fortunate enough to be reading your computer screen right now, you may also have been able to live a good portion of your life during this period on Zoom. You may have learned to prop your laptop up on stacked dictionaries or on 12-packs of seltzer, to “find your light,” and to look into that little green light when you interact.
And when you do that, you may have an interaction that, as some colleagues have complained to me, feels stilted, a scornable substitute for the real thing.
“I can’t quite catch the other person breathe.”
“I don’t feel as though I were really with them.”
“What kind of person is it in a little box?” (This last comes out as a whine.)
But there’s a depersonalization aspect for ourselves as well that people talk about less, but which may be equally important.
We’ve got sweatpants on, and the other person doesn’t even know that. We haven’t brushed our hair from the back, and they’d never see it unless we forgot something and had to get up from the computer to get it. (And we won’t, because we planned that part ahead.) We’re typing notes as we’re talking in a way that might seem terribly clinical if we were sitting at the same table in a conference room in Northbrook. They can’t see our hands, forearms, or even very much of our upper arms. Were it not for their warmth, our “Zoom shirts” might as well be cut off below the fifth button.
THE HUMAN JOURNEY® recognized the problem of depersonalization over Zoom early, and adapted to address it as we made our experience as lively and rich in the online environment as it was in overstuffed chairs and matching loveseat. Truthfully, we had already addressed the basic problem — which is that we tend to treat each other (and ourselves) as disembodied talking heads in everyday life, far before Zoom took over our lives. That’s one reason we made re-experiencing the body in the presence of others a central part of the experience in ways that participants would find non-threatening and humanizing.
It’s time to give you a simple idea to make your own Zoom calls a little easier. Engage one more dimension of experience besides the frontal, that flat screen that makes you feel steamrollered and disengaged from the other person.
In other words, add depth.
Depth to how you’re seen. You can use the kindergarten device that adults seem to enjoy too — show and tell. Purposefully leave something out of the room that you’re going to share with the other person where you do your Zoom and have to go get it. Let the other person see you leave — see the whole of your body. (Pro tip: don’t wear pajamas.) One television anchor did this recently — left the frame of the camera for a moment — and one reviewer called her unusual absence riveting television!
When you return, share the object in as natural a way as possible with the other person. And, in particular, stand farther back from the camera when you do it so they can see more of you than they did before. You’re adding depth to your body, the space where you’re Zooming from, and the materials that inhabit your world — for you as much as for them.
Photo by Tracy Glanz © 2011. This Is Not a Funhouse Mirror.