Do you dislike virtual meetings?
Do you find it easier to navigate conversations in-person?
Do video meetings make you feel awkward, uncomfortable or self-conscious?
I very much relate! I was that person. I always opted for in-person and avoided online programs, meetings or webinars because I found them triggering. Literally, I would leave virtual programs feeling annoyed, drained and frustrated - either because of the glitches of the technology or because I couldn't quite make sense of what someone did or did not say or both. Either way, I was taking it all sooooooo personally that it physically hurt.
Then over 4 years ago I had an opportunity to study with one of the world's greatest coaches Judith E. Glaser. It was a dream come true, except it was all virtual. Even though it made me uncomfortable, and wasn't ideal for me to do a virtual program, I choose to enroll in the Conversational Intelligence training.
If you're not already aware, Conversational Intelligence is based on the latest Neuroscience. So, I was virtually learning about the different areas of the brain, our neurochemistry and how different stimuli cause the release of different neurochemicals that impact brain function. Or to put it more simply, I was learning how different experiences cause our lizard brain to go into an automatic threat response even though we aren't in imminent danger, which typically just makes a bad situation worse.
For me, engaging with people online was a mega-trigger, and I became aware of that while in this program with Judith. I remember standing at my kitchen counter, my laptop off to the side; I was cooking dinner while participating in a webinar. I typed a comment into the chatbox and then I got triggered.
I honestly can't remember what happened that triggered me, but I do recall that I felt embarrassed, my mind started racing with all these angry, defensive thoughts and I had this sinking feeling in my head. I stepped back from my computer, so angry I was about ready to slam it shut, but instead, I took a deep breath.
"Oh my gosh, I was just triggered by that!" Suddenly all these past experiences became crystal clear in my minds eye. "The internet is triggering for me, that's why I avoid these things, that's why I don't like participating in social media or virtual programs."
In that moment I began to separate the fact from fiction as I remembered all these stories I was telling myself about participating in virtual programs. Stories about how dumb I am. Stories about how I'm never the cool one, can't ever seem to say the right thing and that I don't belong. Simply, they were all stories about how I'm not good enough!
Then I looked at the facts. The facts were I shared something vulnerable virtually and no one commented within the time frame or way I had expected. Everything else was assumptions, invasive thoughts, stories I was telling myself that validated and deepened my feelings of embarrassment and worthlessness.
Having that awareness was powerful for me. It gave me a chance to claim my agency, to take control of my own story and stop being a victim of my neurophysiology! Just because I experienced a trigger while interacting online didn't mean I needed to enter a tailspin of negative, self-critical thinking. Just because I felt hurt didn't mean I needed to start blaming everyone else and putting up a wall to distance myself from them in a feigned effort to restore my dignity.
And so began a long effort to practice being aware when I experienced the trigger. By bringing my awareness to the trigger I began to interrupt my patterned threat response. From anger, shame and blame, to simply noticing without judgment - truly this is harder than it sounds. There's a common saying - neuron's the fire together, wire together.
I can trace my own patterned threat response in these situations back to my childhood. I was repeatedly bullied by my childhood best friend. When it was just the two of us we were like two peas in a pod. But whenever we were at school or around other kids she continually and cruelly rejected me....Hence the negative self-talk about never being cool enough and never saying the right thing!
Needless to say, my own threat response to being triggered by virtual interactions was deeply rooted in my biology. Rewriting this patterned threat response that both humiliated and infuriated me when participating in online programs started with awareness, then moved into deconstructing the situation by tracing how my past was haunting me in the present. I was deeply invested in rewriting this pattern because I didn't have a choice - I could have either shifted the dynamic or quite the program.
Luckily I saw many upsides to engaging in this virtual program. I started to experience powerful moments of connection, compassion and support from my C-IQ colleagues all over the world. When my book was released at the end of 2016 I felt buoyed by them as they bought copies to donate to libraries in their communities. And I was learning valuable tools that not only helped me personally but also enabled me to better serve my clients.
So, I continued to actively rewrite this patterned threat response to virtual meetings, and today I'm really glad I did. I've navigated incredibly sensitive conversations, facilitated full-day retreats and led professional development programs successfully online. I've participated in mastermind groups with people from all over the world and felt lighter afterward.
I'm sharing this to say that you too can enjoy a sense of connection virtually. I know it might seem hard, even impossible. I know technology can be really frustrating and confusing to learn at first. But it is important to know that you're likely experiencing a trigger response the first few times you meet virtually and with it feelings of frustration as well as an onslaught of invasive thoughts.
Please know you are not alone. Very likely there are other people you know that feel similarly! And if you can acknowledge it, first to yourself and possibly to others, you too can claim your agency and adjust like I did. First by bringing your awareness to the trigger in the moment, separating the fact from fiction, deconstructing the dynamic and ultimately changing your own narrative about the situation.
I still think that meeting in-person is ideal but it remains prudent to leverage technology and keep a safe physical distance. So we might as well stop giving our power away to our devices, claim our agency and make the most of it.