When the COVID-19 crisis began, we had to change the way we communicated seemingly overnight. This was vital to controlling the spread of the disease; it meant shifting from in-person interactions to online. Suddenly, meetings and socialising were conducted exclusively via technology, whether it be by video call, phone, text or email.
As the pandemic retreated (but then came roaring back, as we all know too well), face-to-face communication changed too. Now, we’ll often wear face coverings in public places. This too dramatically changes our style of communication, and certainly, it will take time to adapt as this ‘new normal’ is set to persist.
Adaptation in a challenging environment
Communication is a fine art at the best of times. However, in the midst of a crisis, emotional responses can add an extra layer of difficulty. It can take a great deal of effort to facilitate clear lines of communication and mitigate misunderstandings. After the year we’ve had, the time is now to be as flexible when it comes to how we express ourselves. We need to be as compassionate and kind as possible.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Cheryl Dixon, an adjunct professor in communications at Columbia University and New York University noted that more than 90% of communication is nonverbal. Moreover, it’s been shown we trust body language more than verbal expressions. Naturally, when these cues are reduced, we feel less comfortable and communication can become stilted.
Video conferencing means we lose certain aspects of body language. Equally, when we’re wearing masks, our ability to express ourselves through facial expressions is limited. We’ve said we have to be patient; but what are the more tangible measures we can take?
Moving forward in the ‘new normal’
Primarily, we need to stop comparing how we used to communicate to the present; living in the past always prevents progress. We’re finding ourselves in a completely new era, where we need to be creative and open. This means slowing down, reflecting and taking stock in a highly emotional time.
To make conversations smoother and more productive – while, paradoxically, slowing things down – psychologists recommend follow-up chats. If you think the other person may have misinterpreted you, you can clarify your intentions via a call or text. In times like these, it’s OK to over-communicate, even if you’re a naturally shy person.
This is part and parcel of stepping up communication in general. In a world of video calling and mask-wearing, signals that allowed people to read between the lines have disappeared. This means we need to put in a little bit of extra effort, which goes hand-in-hand with being compassionate. By communicating your feelings as well as your ideas, you can make sure you get the whole message across.
We’re all in it together
Looking out for each other is essential as we move towards a post-pandemic world. We all went to extraordinary lengths to keep everyone safe during the crisis, and now, we need to maintain this spirit. This is why compassion is key to communication in the new normal. As we emerge from the crisis we need to keep caring, especially for those that may feel anxious or vulnerable now restrictions are being lifted. It’s good to talk – so let’s keep lines of communication open.