Communication challenges during lockdown: non-verbal linguistic clues are often non-existent.
Updated: Mar 27
Though we live in the era of emojis and smiley faces in emails, the glorious new dawn of Slack, Discord, and the well-placed Kermit GIF, there are some conversations that are better had face to face. But how do you do that during lockdown?
Yes, of course, we've got video conferencing (which could nix much of the suggestions in this article if you do it well), but what if your colleagues or clients just aren't feeling it, or your connection's sketchy, or you've come to the valid conclusion that your meeting should actually be an email?
You may need to make tough decisions as a business, and communicating those in a sensitive way is crucial to minimise fall out. There are some conversations you may need to have with your staff where emails – and emojis – just won’t cut it.
If you’re not able to decode body language, and tone of voice is less nuanced, you might find yourself in something of a pickle. We’ve all had the email that’s set you on fire with incandescent rage until you have a coffee, realising that the sender isn't being pass-agg, it’s just Monday.
Make sure you’re not the sender of that email. Here are some other things you can do.
Pick up the freaking phone!
Fellow millenials, phone-phobics, and Gen Z-ers, this one’s for you. If you’ve got a tough business conversation to have, pick up the damn phone and have it. Check that the person you’re speaking with has time for the call – then you can begin.
Make it a dialogue, gather their feedback, and listen really hard to what’s being said – this helps you to respond with intelligence and sensitivity. You can't see someone's body language, but their voice will carry nuance and shifts in tone that help you build a bigger picture of what's really going on.
And a last plea - make sure you don’t interrupt when that person’s speaking. Not only is it the height of rudeness, but you might cut them off before they have a chance to make their point – causing communications breakdown and frustration for both parties.
Triple check that email
If you absolutely have to send an email rather than make a phone call, get someone you trust to sense-check it first.
Consider all the angles and how something could be interpreted. It doesn’t hurt to be a little more polite and considerate than you might feel you need to be. We could all do with a touch more kindness just now.
Set an example of how your colleagues should treat one another, and don’t be afraid to respectfully call out someone’s crappy email etiquette. You might find that they’re having an awful day, and now you have a chance to show up for them. The positive ripple effect of being deliberately interested in your staff’s mental wellbeing will foster better performance,
greater loyalty, and happier employees.
Keep the door open
Consider having an open-door Slack channel or messaging system – it could be one you moderate yourself, or one that a team of people (perhaps from your HR department) manage.
Set it up to let your colleagues know you’re available at certain times throughout to chat through anything that might be concerning for them outside their normal responsibilities.
A little effort to open up your internal communications will go a long way to helping your staff feel considered and engaged, during a time of enforced separation.
Likewise, it might be helpful to have an office hour for your clients – proactively letting them know that you’re free at key times for any concerns they might have.
Choosing to pick up the phone, sense-checking the tone of every email, and deliberately making yourself available to your employees for a quick chat are just three simple things you can build into your work day that will positively impact your comms in the age of lockdown.
Other things that I’m finding helpful include coming up for air from the screen every hour or so, private dance parties to 80s funk, and Quite a Lot of Coffee™.
Stay tuned as we tackle the next challenge – that of communicating with yourself to avoid the dreaded C-19 mental spiral. Until then, check out the following brilliant resources
helping to spark better conversations with others: