Can you look them in the eyes?

Face-to-face conversations are hard to come by in organizations these days. People opt to send an email, text or call one another. Many meetings are now conducted online with geographically dispersed teams, or in the case of people in the same building, just for convenience.

This inability to have (or avoidance of) in-person meetings may be having a detrimental effect on people’s ability to work together and creatively solve problems.

The New York Times Magazine article, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, highlights research from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College which studied hundreds of teams to see what made the best ones so successful. The research uncovered two key findings.

First, the best teams allowed for equal talk time amongst all the participants. Second, they had high “average social sensitivity”. This allowed them to sense mood changes amongst team members based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues, and adjust their behaviour accordingly. This social sensitivity was measured by a test called Reading the Mind through the Eyes wherein participants guess people’s emotions based on just a photograph of their eyes.

Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – is a key ingredient to strong teams. However, as the research showed, it requires us to be around others in order to “read” their body language. Our shift to “speaking” through screens is affecting how well we can work together. The next time you schedule a meeting, take a second and decide if you need to look one another in the eyes.