It’s Not About You

Published: February 23, 2021

Team engagement is more challenging when interacting through a laptop screen or a smartphone. It’s easier than ever to get away with multitasking. When the group gets larger, distractions are more tempting. What keeps teammates tuned in? Beyond the drug of charisma when a compelling speaker has the floor, the most effective fuel for sustained engagement is connection. And connection is not about you or your needs. It’s about the other people on the team.

The battle in most team settings, particularly when being conducted on a virtual platform, is to not give in to the meanderings of your own thoughts. Daydreaming is like candy. You get the immediate relief of not having to pay attention but, once the sugar buzz has worn off, you’re alone. Team energy does not come from within.

The skill of truly listening is a rare competency. It goes beyond the ability to parrot back what you heard. It’s more than waiting your turn to make a point. It is rooted in empathy. Suspending your own perspective to enter the experience of a teammate’s worldview is difficult. Yet when it’s successful, it awakens you.

It’s a common fallacy to think that attending to others drains and attending to yourself fuels. Obviously, no one serves from an empty vessel. You have to take good care of yourself to take good care of others.  But it’s not a single continuum with you on one end and your teammates on the other. You don’t have to decide on which side to invest. Genuine all-in listening results in a mutually reinforcing energy exchange where giving is the path to getting.

So, the next time you are on a Zoom call and you are fighting the temptation to let your mind wander, activate your listening skills and dial up your empathy. You’ll be surprised how quickly your teammates will fill you up. If you are lucky, maybe you can fill them up, too.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.