The long-awaited route map out of the pandemic has been revealed, and to everyone’s pleasant surprise, it wasn’t a communications failure. In fact, along with some early spring weather, it brought a glimmer of hope on the horizon that the threads of our lives we dropped so abruptly last March, may soon be picked up again.
Whilst the pandemic is by no means over, the one-year milestone that we are edging towards isn’t something any of us could have envisioned a year ago, when we believed we were locking down for a few weeks to ‘flatten the curve’. But, the one-year milestone does give us all pause for thought. Very few of us are the same people we were at the start of the pandemic, our lives and experiences having been drastically changed.
As a legal PR agency, communication is our bread and butter, and changes in communication spike our interest. If we don’t know how communication is changing, how can we help our clients to effectively reach their audiences?
Covid-19 has undoubtedly influenced and changed the way we communicate. We’ve all had to adopt ‘online’ lives as our social and work lives moved online. Much comment has been made on the effect of ‘Zoom fatigue’, but has it all been bad?
As humans we rely on a myriad of signals to help us effectively process communication. Much of that is in the form of subtle facial expressions, gestures or tone of voice which we process subconsciously. Most of this has been blunted or removed by the move online, and that has affected how we communicate, and our brains have to work much harder to process the information we’re being given.
In the absence of these all-important non-verbal cues, which are much harder to pick up on a screen than face to face, we’ve learnt to be more direct. Long gone have been any office ‘watercooler’ moments to casually pick someone’s brain or bounce around some ideas, our communication is now intent-driven. We pick up the phone to ask specific questions, we have to be direct when participating in video calls to ensure that we are understood clearly, we also have to avoid coming across as confrontational, or if your attention wanders, as disinterested!
This has all had the effect of sharpening our communication skills. We need to choose both our language and our tone carefully to ensure we aren’t misinterpreted. We need to be patient and deliberate, waiting for an appropriate time to contribute during an online meeting or even returning to our school days and raising our hands to indicate we’d like to contribute to avoid Zoom meetings descending into chaos. Even the act of ‘muting’ ourselves during group calls, means that we consciously ‘un-mute’ to contribute in a deliberate way.
I doubt many of us would relish a future where face to face communication isn’t the norm, but the skills we’ve learned from the past year shouldn’t be quickly abandoned. Many of us know not to email or text when we’re in a hurry or frustrated due to either saying something we’ll regret or being mis-interpreted when tone and meaning can’t be well conveyed. This year has shown us that can also extend to face to face communication, and that being more deliberate and considered with our choice of language and tone makes for a smoother ride.
While Gwyneth Paltrow may have famously ‘consciously un-coupled’ a few years ago, it seems seven years later a global virus has caused us all to pause for thought, as we temporarily consciously un-couple from our old ways of communication, to adopt new more thoughtful and considered ways.