Guide meaningful and impactful conversations despite social distancing
It’s almost been a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic considerably changed our personal and professional lives. We witnessed the impact in many fundamental things about the way we operate as businesses and humans, including how we communicate. The pandemic may have put masks on our faces and forced us to social distance, but the fact remains that communication still lies at the heart of everything we do. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that we convey what we actually mean, especially in the workplace.
We communicate in various ways, from our written and spoken words to our tone, body language, and facial expressions. When we’re not fully aware of the messages we’re conveying or how our communication habits impact our daily lives, it can lead to misunderstandings that can hurt our relationships and impact the workplace.
It’s true. We adapted to the pandemic and are communicating in different ways. Personal visits may now be video chats. Team meetings may be conference calls. Perhaps you find yourself texting with individuals you typically see in person or talk to on the phone. The channels by which we communicate may be different, but its importance in our everyday lives is as crucial as ever.
So how can we communicate most clearly and effectively in the workplace considering these differences? Here are a few simple tips to help you communicate with more intention.
Consider the method
Luckily, we work in an age where we have a variety of technology options at our fingertips. Businesses worldwide rely on various video chat platforms such as Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. Additionally, we have instant messaging capabilities, conference call lines, and smartphones that have allowed us to stay connected while social distancing.
While we may have access to different communication modes, it is important to consider which communication method is best for the message you are looking to convey. For example, if your once in-office team meetings now virtual, is it crucial to have video or screen sharing capabilities, or will a conference line suffice?
Here are some suggestions on when each method may be a best practice:
- Desire to develop a strong rapport or team build
- Benefit from reading body language
- Sharing significant or challenging news
- Have a visual presentation to share
Phone or conference call:
- No visuals needed
- When low bandwidth is an issue (video calls require more)
- Complex or controversial issues where discussion and problem solving is key
- Sharing resources such as links or documents
- Recapping a conversation
- Documenting decisions or requests
- Quick and short question or timely answer
- If a lengthy response is required, pick up the phone
Organize the message
Whether it is an important client meeting or a talk with your colleague, you need to clarify what you want to say. Take some time to hone your message. Think about what words best explain your meaning and will have the most impact. The best communicators don’t beat around the bush or give long-winded explanations. So be concise and to the point! Determine a few clear talking points. This will help you keep on track during the conversation, especially if it will be a difficult conversation. It’s also good practice to reiterate your most important points at the end of the conversation to cement them in your listeners’ minds.
Know your audience
Are you trying to communicate with your boss? A peer? A young patient? A vendor? The needs and knowledge of your audience should form your communication strategy. This includes the language you use, the level of detail you provide, and the use of visual aids and other materials.
You should also think about whether the conversation will be formal or informal and whether you will be talking to one person or a group. Finally, it’s essential to consider any cultural norms and expectations or group dynamics that might influence what you say and how your message is received.
We all want to be heard. Often, though, we focus more on what we want to say in a conversation rather than on what the other person is saying; this leads to disconnect and misunderstandings. Truly effective communication requires active listening. When we listen actively, we are fully engaged in the interaction.
Active listening means paying attention not just to the words but to the other person’s tone, body language, expressions, and emotions. When we listen in this way, we gain a fuller understanding of the communication and can respond appropriately and effectively. Tips for active listening include:
- Putting away cell phones and other distractions so you can engage your attention fully
- Avoiding the temptation to interrupt with your thoughts and reactions
- Using non-verbal cues (eye contact, nodding, smiling) to indicate that you are listening
- Paraphrasing the other person’s message and asking for clarification when needed. “What I’m hearing is…” and “Is this what you mean by…?” are great ways to reflect and promote further discussion.
- Turn on your camera during video calls and resist the temptation to multitask by closing other applications
When others are wearing a mask, it can sometimes be challenging to hear what they are saying, especially if they are social distancing. When in doubt, do not assume you heard correctly. Repeat and ask for clarification. The same concept can apply during video or audio calls when technology is malfunctioning or spotty.
Pay attention to non-verbal cues
When we think of communication, talking is usually the first thing that comes to mind. But we communicate just as much, if not more, through non-verbal cues. Things like body language and facial expressions play a huge role in how we impart information. Non-verbal cues to be on the lookout for include:
- Maintaining eye contact during a conversation signals that you are listening and paying attention. If your audience is not maintaining eye contact for long periods, this could indicate that their attention is drifting. Also, if you avoid eye contact while speaking, your words can come off as aloof or untruthful. While you don’t want to just stare at your audience, remember to check in with genuine eye contact regularly!
- Crossing your arms or leaning away from the person talking can indicate indifference or even hostility. Keeping your posture more open can lead to friendlier, more fluent dialogue. Similarly, a slouched posture can indicate a lack of attention and could be a sign that it’s time to re-engage the other person with direct questions or an opportunity to give feedback.
Watch for emotions
If you’ve ever tried to get your point across to someone when you’re stressed or upset, you know – strong emotions do not make for effective communication. If you feel yourself or the other person getting stressed, frustrated, or angry, suggest taking a break and resuming the conversation when you’ve had the chance to cool down and regroup. This can be especially tricky to watch for when others are wearing masks. Listen to voice tones and consider other non-verbal cues.
Just like any other skill, effective communication takes practice. By remembering and using these simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to building stronger professional communications and relationships!