why do group video chats feel strange?

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Group video calls are a common tool for staying connected during the pandemic. They can bring a large group of people together in one place—which is especially helpful during this time of social distancing. But where group video chats, counterintuitively, aren’t that great is when it comes to fully communicating or forging connections with people.

why group video chats seem forced

First of all, a group video has to follow an agenda, or else it will go off the rails. There are simply too many people to corral and too many variables that can mess things up. Second, the pixellation and lag inherent in having a group of people all dialed in at once can actually increase anxiety.

When you log in to Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, or whatever app or site you use for group videos, your screen is filled with little boxes with even smaller faces inside. Not only is it tough to pay attention to everyone at once, the way you can when everyone’s in the same room, but the faces are so small that you miss their micro-expressions and body language. When these nuances are lost in a sea of talking heads on your monitor, opportunities to build rapport and trust with people and empathize with them evaporate.

Group videos can also be intimidating, because it’s hard to know when it’s a good time to speak, and you don’t want to talk over anyone else. We’ve all experienced how a poorly timed interjection can cause the whole group to fall silent. Awwwwkward! It’s easier just to stay muted and listen instead of actively participating in the discussion or activity. Most people are muted,🤐 as is proper group video etiquette, which means when they want to interject a supportive comment, “Wow! That’s great!” (like we do in face-to-face interactions), they have to unmute themselves and by then, the moment has passed.

Face-to-face conversations don’t follow a “you go, I go” pattern. They’re messy and nonlinear, sometimes you talk at the same time; sometimes there are a few seconds of silence to absorb what’s been shared. Perhaps ideal for presenting information to many people at once, the architecture of group video chats just isn’t conducive to a natural conversation.

why one-on-one video chat is better

A video chat with just you and one other person, on the other hand, can be nearly as effective as an in-person conversation. Unlike a group video chat, a one-on-one video can be spontaneous. There’s no script or outline you need to follow. There’s not a talk-and-then-listen pattern. It’s interactive and organic. There’s an ebb and flow—maybe even an awkward pause or two.😬

One of the obvious advantages of a one-on-one video chat is there’s just one person you have to focus your attention on. You can see when they raise their eyebrows or smile when you share good news. 🥳 And because their mic isn’t muted all the time, you can have what sociologists call “cooperative overlap,” where one person speaks at the same time as the other as a way to demonstrate engagement. For example, a friend might talk over you as you’re sharing good news with, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” Way to go,” which more closely resembles the way we speak in person.

Plus, when you’re just talking with one person, it’s easier to be vulnerable and more yourself than it is when 5 or 50 people are watching and listening. The nature of a one-on-one call is that it engages the participants more actively, and that two-way interaction is what creates authentic connection.

Another advantage of video chatting with one person at a time is that you don’t have to always talk. You can just be. Maybe you just sip a beverage and enjoy the weather as your friend does the same on their end. Having one person on a video keeping you company is comforting. 20 people is intimidating!

Group video chats definitely have their place. But if you want real connection and a satisfying, two-way conversation, a one-on-one video chat is the next best thing to an in-person conversation. Bonus points if it’s a high-definition video chat. 😎


Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

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