Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

DEAR READERS: I received a lot of mail about my column about videoconferences and the fact that I think it is smart for everyone to show their faces at least once during these calls as a way to create better connections. The following letters give a sense of the range of comments that you had -- all of which are valid.

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DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a woman who videoconferences using audio only. I do this because my husband is an essential worker, and I have three children. So while on these calls, I am helping them with schoolwork, helping them in the bathroom, breaking up skirmishes, etc. I am quite certain that watching these goings-on would be incredibly distracting. So rather than all women being so vain they can't bring themselves to be seen on camera, perhaps we could consider that even during a crisis, women do a disproportionate amount of the child-rearing. Perhaps that would allow people to extend more compassion and less judgement. -- Reality Check

DEAR REALITY CHECK: I agree that you should not keep the camera on when you are taking care of your children. I also think it is wise to show your face briefly and, whenever possible, when you are speaking.

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DEAR HARRIETTE: A good bit of the challenge senior leaders face comes down to how they present themselves in the world and how they communicate. From that perspective, I was intrigued by your reply to the writer exasperated by some female co-workers who choose not to be visible on office videoconferences.

You hit a couple of the points that crossed my mind when reading the letter. What I did not see was mention of two very significant issues I see embedded in the situation: women becoming invisible in the workforce and body language.

I'm sure you would agree that all too often, female employees lack the exposure or platform that enables them to demonstrate their full potential. Among the standard organizational "remedies" for that are some kind of self-esteem or assertiveness training and mentoring programs. Those can be helpful. What is decidedly not helpful is for women to purposefully become less visible on videoconference calls. If participating fully on a videoconference requires making more of an effort to achieve one's standard level of appearance, then I say shame on them for not making it. All the talk about and effort toward empowerment is quickly washed away when an employee's choices sabotage her own interests.

Second, communication occurs on three "frequencies" -- words, tone and body language. When the listener cannot experience the speaker's body language, as in this case, an enormous amount of meaning is lost. That weakens the impact of the speaker's remarks, further exacerbating the problem of being purposefully invisible. -- Professional Coach

DEAR PROFESSIONAL COACH: We live in a world where women are still valued less than men. To counter that, I think women should be as present as possible, even in the virtual workplace. But let me add that my main point about showing your face on video calls is for both men and women. When so many of us are still in quarantine, human interaction is even more important. Being able to see one another during work interactions matters.

I understand that the challenges of being at home are real and may make it impossible to always be on camera. But I recommend that all of us find a way to connect as meaningfully as we can from a distance. I believe that should include showing your face.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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