February 7, 2024

My Face (and Soon AI) Betrays Me

I am not ready for Zoom to interpret my body language.

I was on a coaching call on Zoom yesterday, and as my client was sharing her proposed approach to something or other, she reported that something about how I was reacting facially made her think I hated what she was saying.

She actually implied that Zoom itself shared some sort of automated signal on top of her story of my reaction. At this moment in time, Zoom’s gesture recognition only translates a hand raised or a thumb up into visible feedback (turn that on or off here). However, I later learned that the latest MacOS gives you the power to summon confetti, hearts, rain, and lasers (among other effects) while videoconferencing, so it is possible I inadvertently put on a spectacle. What’s apparent is that whatever my head and upper body did was truly alarming to this client.

Toward the end of the call, this client gave me feedback. She shared that in the past, she has experienced me having a reaction to something she says or does, and she has been frightened by my bodily reaction. She’s imagined that I have some massive aversion to whatever she’s just shared.

Photo by Emiliano Cicero on Unsplash

Yikes. And double yikes because she is the second client who has told me that my face betrays me on Zoom, and because Zoom is surely going to extend gesture recognition at some point to reactions that aren’t curious or positive. I’m in trouble!

I loved that I got this feedback. On the call, I wondered to myself about it, and then I shared with my client what I think was happening on the inside. I told her that even though I have a strong, dynamic executive coaching business, I still wonder at times whether I am making any positive contributions at all in my coaching conversations. My imposter voice assaults me with this doubt in real time. So what I think is actually happening in these moments is that I hear something that makes me think I have something I can contribute. And I have a BIG reaction. It’s a reaction to an aha moment for and in me. And I suspect it comes off as visually alarming.

I will try to pay more attention to my reactions, as I bet others have had this feeling and not said a word about it. I sure hope Zoom doesn’t increase its tools for surmising my emotions. I’d much prefer open and honest communication with open and honest people so that, together, we get a sense of genuine emotions happening on all sides.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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