Building social connections virtually
In our dramatic switch to online working and learning, we have learned how to navigate virtual activities. We find that tasks can be handled in a virtual environment, sometimes even better.
Building relationships, however, has been far more difficult. I have participated in virtual coffees, cocktail events and workshops, which mostly have been uninspiring for meeting new people or feeling connected. The groups are large so a few people dominate the conversation. Without a specific topic or activity as a base, discussions are superficial.
Lessons from Improv provide a positive twist.
In December I participated in two events facilitated by the Renegade Saints, a Geneva-based group specializing in Improv. Of course these were virtual. For the first time, the activities felt like building social connection was possible in a virtual format.
The Renegade Saints identified four key lessons from Improv:
• Make everyone else look good
• Active listening
• Let go of judgment
• Yes and
One of our opening exercises in breakout groups was to introduce ourselves by sharing the story of our name. Immediately our discussion was more personal and connected. Our name shapes us from birth, and I can still remember the stories of my group mates.
Another activity, again in breakout groups, was to ask questions using “Who cards”. For example, “Who is a person you secretly admire and why?” “What gives you hope?” “What life experience made you grow the most?” We took turns asking questions from this deck, which again led to more engaging discussions.
Why were these activities more engaging? According to the new book Social Chemistry, when we have more personal discussions, we feel more connected. Author Marissa King suggests that,
• Self-disclosure leads to connection and interpersonal closeness
• Revealing your values, goals, beliefs, past mistakes and fears can accelerate deeper feelings of intimacy
• We are liked more when we share more of ourselves (with boundaries, avoid oversharing)
In addition, research by Francesca Gino suggests that Improv can provide lessons for leading teams more effectively. Active listening, building on the ideas of the whole team and helping everyone feel safe to contribute are Improv techniques that encourage more fun and more creative ideas.
Virtual working and learning are here to stay. These lessons from Improv can help us build social connection remotely and will remain useful even after we resume face to face activities.
• Do you have tips for building social connection virtually?
• Are there activities you have found effective?
If so, let me know and we will start a best practices area.
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