Communicating in the New Normal

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When the world locked down, those who transitioned to working from home assumed it would be work as normal, just not in the normal workplace.

But a virtual workplace presents unique challenges. Gone are the chance opportunities to strike up a conversation in the breakroom, ask a quick question in the hallway, or run an idea past someone who happens to be nearby. Instead, you communicate with a narrow group of coworkers, and a call – or even an email – can feel intrusive.

Even if you are one of the few whose work life hasn’t changed much during the past few months, you have probably experienced some challenges with communicating in the new normal. For example, masks, face shields and social distancing present hurdles most of us hadn’t considered a year ago.

So, how can you make your interactions as effective as possible?

First, remember that kindness and positivity improve relationships, whether you are masked face to masked face or you’re behind a computer in your living room.

Conveying a friendly, agreeable attitude is harder in the new normal. Pay extra attention to how you are coming across.

  • Re-read your messages before you hit send. Are they upbeat and helpful?
  • Check your vocal tone. Do you sound interested or bored? Judgmental or supportive?
  • Smile, nod and make eye contact more than usual when you’re on camera or behind a mask.
  • Check in with people, not just to reiterate action items but to build relationships. The new normal can leave people feeling isolated, unheard and misunderstood.

Second, practice mindfulness.

Be fully in the moment when interacting virtually. Eliminate distractions so everyone can concentrate on the task at hand.

  • If people will see you and your surroundings during a meeting, turn on your camera before the call. Check for clutter, glare and lighting issues that could detract from the conversation.
  • Remove anything that might take your attention off the discussion. People can tell when your mind is elsewhere. You wouldn’t play on your phone or work on something else if you were all in the same room, so don’t do these things when you are meeting virtually.

Third, overcome the physical barriers.

Masks and shields hide facial expressions, yet facial expressions convey a great deal of meaning. To compensate:

  • Make as much eye contact as possible.
  • Modulate your voice more to get your intentions across.
  • Choose your words carefully, so you say exactly what you mean.
  • Speak up and articulate clearly.
  • Check for understanding.
  • Repeat and rephrase.
  • Use hand signals and nodding to let people know they have it right.

Whether you are in a virtual workplace or just socially distanced, remind yourself that we are all in this challenging situation together. A supportive attitude and a few adjustments can help overcome even the most frustrating communication challenges!

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