You may love using Skype. But chances are, Skype isn’t giving you any love in return.
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal has some sobering news for anyone who has turned to videoconferencing in an effort to cut travel days, work from multiple locations, or allow their staff to work remotely: Coming off as “likeable” is much harder via video than it is in person.
Job candidates who interview via video conference receive lower likeability ratings, lower interview scores, and are less likely to be hired than those who interview in person, according to a study cited by the Journal and published in Management Science. And the story says that people watching a speaker on a video conference are “more influenced by how much they like the speaker than by the quality of the speaker’s argument.”
Likeability and competence have long been shown to be at odds with each other. The more likeable someone is, the more apt we are to think he or she is weak and therefore not particularly competent. When someone is viewed first as highly competent, on the other hand, we tend not to trust him or her and even to feel threatened. Asked to choose between a lovable fool or a competent jerk, we tend to go for the lovable fool.
Recent research suggests the best strategy is to connect, then lead. In other words, get people to like you, trust you, and feel comfortable with you first. Then and only then are you free to bowl them over with your brilliance.
In your quest to become more likeable, here are a few simple mistakes that could crush your efforts:
Don't stiffen up or refuse to show emotion. It seems that some people react to video conferencing the same way the would if they were going on television or onstage. They get nervous and stiffen up. But a videoconference isn’t usually a big event like that. There will probably only be a few other people in the room, and you probably already know most of them. So relax.
Avoid overacting or exaggerating. This is the other extreme, and like the first, is most often a result of anxiety.
Skip playing the class clown. It’s already harder to communicate via video, because you’re not getting all the nuances you get in person. Joking around is even more fraught when you can’t easily read the reactions of everyone in the room. Don’t try it.
So what should you do?
Make eye contact. Look into the camera. This can be difficult, because in person, no one spends an entire conversation looking directly into someone else’s eyes. On video, you want to talk directly to the camera.
Smile naturally when you talk. Try to get yourself in a good mood before the video conference, even if that means thinking about something completely unrelated. Physically, force yourself to smile. Smiling affects the way our brain processes stimuli, and actually stimulates the "happiness centers" in our brains.
Vary the tone of your voice. It can be a bit hard to do this without veering into overacting, but remember, your conversational partners are relying only on your voice and face, without any other cues to guide them.
It’s hard to find the line between being upbeat and being annoying, but a little practice helps. You can get an idea of how you’re doing by having a pretend conversation with a client in front of the camera, and then playing it back without the sound.
Acknowledge other’s emotions. If someone seems to have a strong reaction to something you’re saying, ask for his or her opinion. Show some curiosity about what he or she is saying, thinking, or feeling. Don’t just barrel through, as if you’re up on stage with a carefully rehearsed presentation you have to get through. Being genuinely interested in others is a sure way to be more empathetic and likeable, no matter what the medium.