Communication Tips in a COVID World

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As of this writing, COVID cases have emerged across the country, and many of us are working to communicate through shifting “new normal” conditions.  Here are some quick reminder tips for planning for face-to-face communications, and for engaging in virtual interactions in these uncertain times.

When planning for face-to-face communications:

  • Assess comfort levels in advance. Different people have different preferences for closeness and protection depending on the local conditions, personal health and many other factors. In addition, some people may be struggling financially due to reduced work hours or new expenses.  Ask openly what the other person is comfortable doing, and know and share your own limits.
  • Know the rules. If you are meeting in a restaurant, store or an outside park, know local rules for wearing face coverings – and don’t go somewhere if you are not willing to follow their rules. Also, check destination websites in advance for any specific visit instructions. Have a Plan B if your favorite place is closed or full.
  • Deescalate conflict. COVID has led to higher stress levels and has magnified conflicts in values and politics. Watch your communications to avoid offhand comments that may push buttons or cause pain or stress for others.

When engaging in virtual communications:

  • Check-In and Care: Take the time to ask how the other person is – and take the time to listen to the answer. In some parts of the country, many people are only seeing each other over a computer, making it hard to read body language. We may need more words to truly check in.
  • Establish Communications Norms: In a regular group virtual session, set time aside to chat about the ground rules that will make communication easier. When someone wants to speak, should they just unmute, share a chat or raise their hand? Is it expected that people will keep video on all the time, or just when someone is speaking?  It may feel awkward to have the conversation, but it may avoid other awkward interactions in the future.
  • Assume Best Intentions: It’s a stressful time, and it is easy to make up negative stories about other people’s behaviors. Try to assume best intentions, rather than reading too much into any particular comment or conversation.
  • Take a Walk: If you are finding yourself online a lot, take a break. A few minutes away from online communications will help you clear your head, so you are better prepared to implement the tips above.

COVID case counts differ across the country, so customize your communications as the environment shifts in both time and place.  Stay safe!

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