Communication challenges during lockdown: boundaries, break downs, and breathing space
Updated: Jul 16
A couple of days ago we considered some of the downsides to not having someone’s body language in front of you to support your decoding of their language. We discussed the perils of email tone, not picking up the phone, and assuming people might not need you right now.
With all that said, I was going to write this piece from the perspective of the positive impact that proactivity in your comms will have on the long-term success of your business. But as I was thinking, it struck me that whilst it’s great to put all our energy and focus on our customers, our clients and our colleagues, it’s damned hard to pour from an empty cup.
So how can we take care of ourselves during a time like this so that we can show up, communicate with, and be receptive to the needs of others?
Hey look! It’s your new best friend, Healthy Boundaries!
It’s generally accepted that boundaries are critical to respectful, healthy communication. You might not be conscious of them, but you’ll know for sure if someone oversteps them – at home, at work, and perhaps especially when you’re working from home.
Feelings like anger, frustration and irritation all bubble up to the surface when someone does something that simply isn’t kosher, like practicing their bagpipes during your conference call, for example. Pay attention to those clues if you think you don’t know where your boundaries are, and do a little detective work. Darlene Lancer wrote a great piece that simplifies what boundaries are, and how to get ‘em if you want them. Moreover, she writes that boundaries set by you for you, are crucial:
“If you’re procrastinating, doing things you neither have to nor want to do, or overdoing and not getting enough rest, recreation, or balanced meals, you may be neglecting internal physical boundaries. Learning to manage negative thoughts and feelings empowers you, as does the ability to follow through on goals and commitments to yourself.”
What do healthy boundaries look like? Empathetic, respectful communication with another, and with yourself that leads to long term success. Sure, it might feel better in the short term to beat someone with the soggy end of their bagpipes for interrupting your call, but set the boundary first by explaining how important it is to have your work hours respected whilst you’re at home, and figure out a compromise. You’ll be so much happier and productive in the long term for it.
Now, in the context of C-19, there are some pretty valid reasons to have a breakdown. But we’re not actually talking about a breakdown in that particular sense. What we’re actually talking about is breaking down your time.
Why do wee ones need a routine that involves regular meals, play time, and a set hour for bed? Because they’re small, often volatile, and the routine gives them a stability they can thrive in. So why wouldn’t you think you need the same, during this time?
It’s disturbingly easy to fall into the trap of endlessly refreshing your news apps, mindlessly surfing through IG stories, scrolling through Twitter and psychologically feeding yourself an endless stream of information in a bid to feel in control and ‘informed’.
Like a child, it’s important to monitor what you consume and when. Having 32 coronavirus-related tabs open is going to make you feel like crap one way or another. Limit it. Break down the time you spend reading the news, talking about the pandemic, or moping about on social media into small, digestible chunks.
You can set limits on your phone for how long you’d like to spend on certain apps and try to check the news just once a day. Then, take it one step further, and put good things back into the time you’ve freed up. Now’s the time to pick up a book, savour one episode of your new Netflix obsession (Cheer fans, are you out there?), and figure out what to do with all the beans hanging out at the back of your cupboard.
Look, we’re not aiming to reinvent the wheel here, and you certainly don’t need me to tell you how to suck eggs when it comes to taking breaks.
But it’s been shown recently that you might be more likely to work longer hours when you’re working from home – either because your day may involve more interruptions from household members, or because it’s harder to motivate yourself when Karen from Finance’s steely gaze isn’t fixed on your screen from the desk behind you.
If you do find you’re working more hours, then you might also find yourself getting impressively depleted. You know the symptoms: numb bum, crick in your neck, bluescreen brain, inability to get anything done, etc.
An ultradian rhythm break might be exactly what you need:
“...ultradian rhythms help to account for the ebb and flow of our energy throughout the day. Physiological measures such as heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension and brain-wave activity all increase during the first part of the cycle—and so does alertness. After an hour or so, these measures start to decline. Somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes, the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery.”
We can ignore those signals, and sit in the same crooked position, working on our RSIs for four hours, believing we’re being productive. For starters, that’s a great way to abuse your body. Secondly, your capacity to do your best work plummets without regular rest. Thirdly, let’s not confuse being busy with being productive: they’re very different beasts.
To find out more about ultradian rhythm breaks, you can read The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr, or check out the Pomodoro technique which can also help you build that essential breathing space back into your day.
Building better boundaries, breaking down the time you spend scrolling, and coming up for air are all critical in helping you preserve your mental, physical and emotional balance. What could be better than communicating from that stable space?
What are the challenges you’re finding with staying sane whilst working from home, if it’s new to you? And if you’re a WFH veteran, share your tips – how do you maintain that precious work-life balance?