As a mediator I miss the days when clients came in to see me. It was good to have them in the office and being able to read their body and facial languages. Plus, I didn't get that tired, it was a human process that felt like you were working together to resolve an issue(s). Now we are doing it through zoom or other virtual devices. It is working but it doesn't seem the same. To me anyway. I read an article in the Wall Street journal as to how it is affecting us, this new zoom world we live in. We now have a new description and it is called Zoom Fatigue.
According to The Wall Street Journal, there are multiple causes of Zoom Fatigue:
- Lack of transitions. Our brain pays attention to change, and something new, and the lack of change when looking at a computer screen causes our brain to get sleepy. Sitting at a conference table, our head is constantly turning to look at faces, whiteboard, windows, longingly at the bagel stand across the street, etc. But with Zoom, etiquette says that we must continue to look at the screen or people think we are not paying full attention.
- Forced new communication style: Many of us used Zoom before the pandemic, but the number of users and the time spent on Zoom has skyrocketed (from 10 million users to 300 million since April, 2020). This means that our brain has not gotten used to the new method of communication. Just as you get a headache when you begin wearing a new prescription, our brains are adjusting to the importance of stillness in front of the camera, the microsecond delay, allowing only one person to speak at a time, and needing to modulate our voice patterns (too loud is a staticky shriek, too quiet and it won't be picked up by the mic).
- Subconscious intake now requires purposeful thought: Our brains used to absorb nonverbal cues subconsciously--a fast intake of breath, a tightening of the shoulders--that gave us cues about how to proceed. We now have to be more intentional about reading facial expressions and picking up on verbal communication cues. Being more aware of the impact of our vocabulary will likely end up making us even better mediators--but it is still exhausting to learn a new method of communicating.
- Less satisfying feedback: I found myself teaching a group of 40 students in the spring who typically had their audio and video turned off. Do you know how annoying it is to tell a joke to 40 quiet, black squares? Without the feedback of hearing a chuckle or seeing a smile, I found I had to draw on more of my inner energy reserves to keep the lesson interesting. In mediation, I enjoy watching the body language as parties begin to relax and hear each other. This encourages me and motivates me to keep mediating. While Zoom allows me to see more micro expressions on their faces, I miss the full sensory feedback.
- Feeling invaded: Many of us rushed to get larger screens, making it easier to see faces, read documents, etc. Yet researchers found that when you are meeting with clients, their faces are so large and intrusive that it stimulates a fight-flight-freeze response in our parasympathetic brain. We have learned to squash that response, typically, but the result of ignoring our brain is not only tiring but it puts us just a bit more out of touch with our valuable instincts.
- Unclear hierarchy: Our brains can relax when there is clarity. Seeing who is at the head of a conference table, allows our brains to know who to turn to for the final decision. This lack of leadership is unnerving for our brains.
- Physical constraint: Have you ever seen a 3-year-old strapped into a shopping cart at Costco? Watching them try to restrict their movements while they are fairly vibrating with energy is comical (unless you are their parent. Then you are just praying that you make it out of the store before the explosion). Our bodies are designed to "move-it-or-lose-it." The more we run, the more energy we have for running. But if we force ourselves to sit motionless in front of a screen for 9-hour-stretches, then our bodies begin to decrease the amount of energy created. In other words, the long-term result of sitting makes us tired. In 2012, the Huffington Post describes this as the Tin Man effect. They stated that when inactivity becomes habit, we rust up and slow down.
Who would have known we would be dealing with another type of fatigue. Zoom Fatigue, it may be curable.