Post-COVID: Returning to Work Communication Series
With resemblance to a case of post trauma or a major life event, individuals at work could respond differently at interpersonal interactions after the incident. As offices and workplaces re-open, how do you navigate post-COVID communication without falling into some easily overlooked communication traps? Oversharing, letting emotions drive the conversation, or making over-optimistic/pessimistic predictions are some of the red-flags.
The aftershock of COVID hits without prejudice, regardless of your rank in an organization, demographics, or career stage. Though some may experience more intense consequences, the majority of the workforce is returning to work with some form of tremor.
3 communication best practices are outlined in my other article that covers the DO’s. How about the DON’Ts? What are some common mistakes people make in workplace communication post-COVID? You cannot address what you do not see, so let’s explore 5 Communication Traps when returning to work post-COVID:
We are in a movement of authenticity. Business leaders are celebrated for being genuine, truthful and honest in their communication, especially at tough times like now, your team wants to feel that you feel too.
The tricky part is how do you draw the line between oversharing and being vulnerable? When we share, we achieve connectedness and empathy, yet if personal boundaries are pushed too far, the over-sharer risks self-protection and privacy, while the receiver is put in an awkward position and often will disengage and disconnect.
Everyone has different sets of boundaries, assess if you are oversharing by asking:
Is this a personal story, or a private story I am sharing?
Why am I sharing this, what is the outcome I wish to see?
Is the depth of sharing proportionate to the level of trust in this relationship?
Am I unable to manage my sharing extent because of other reasons: anxiety, low self-esteem?
2. Letting Emotions Rule
Difficult conversations happen more frequently at challenging times, COVID being one. You might be delivering bad news, such as ending employment or expressing grievances etc. on behalf of your company. Instead of letting emotions interfere with your ability to get a message across, you have to balance emotions and information in a sensible way.
Begin by thinking - Why: What is the reason for this conversation, what do you want to achieve. Then, write down your discussion points, and practice saying them. You are taking responsibility for and representing your organization, so stay focused on the matter.
Many organizations tap into professional assistance at tough times, get their help to assist you in the preparation of message delivery.
3. Virtual Meeting Fatigue
Virtual meeting numbers have skyrocketed since COVID. We book meetings after meetings with the illusion that we are being productive in doing so. Thanks to multiple scientific studies, virtual meeting fatigue is receiving abundant attention, almost all pointing to the fact that virtual meetings are relatively more draining.
When a meeting attendee is tired or not attentive, the quality of the meeting is compromised.
Here are some quick tips to combat virtual meeting fatigue:
Cancel unnecessary meetings
Make meetings shorter and with breaks
Set clear ‘outcome goals’ and do not prolong meetings
Discuss with your team about the effectiveness of your virtual meetings and adjust where needed
4. Making Over-optimistic/pessimistic Predictions
Humans are drawn to certainty and resent volatility. We look up to leaders to give us definitive directions or decisions in changing times, whether they truly have an answer or not. Business leaders, on the other hand, share predictions and make promises for the future to help teams regain rhythm. When done in the extremes, however, this could be damaging.
Over-optimism in prediction fosters unrealistic expectations, e.g. inclination to exaggerate business projections or view the situation as more benign than it really is. When expectation and reality does not match, team frustration heightens, not to mention misguiding business strategy and resource allocation.
On the other hand, some leaders take the other extreme of pessimistic view, predicting negative outcomes and are unwilling to take any risks. Their communication of a gloomy future could add to the stress and anxiety of the team.
The best approach is to focus on the facts at hand and not to speculate beyond available intelligence on hypothetical situations.
5. Assuming Understanding
One of the most detrimental issues with communication is the assumption that it has taken place, a.k.a. the communication assumption trap.
Imagine the message owner (in this case, you) having spent days and hours thinking, refining and tightening the message. Your team receives a crafted condensed version of the message from you at a moment of distraction, stress and anxiety. You believe you did your job well in communicating. Your team thought you did not communicate clearly, if at all.
To prevent being caught in the assumption trap, be specific and clear in your message, ask questions to check for alignment, listen to any questions and responses. Increase the frequency of dialogue to reinforce your message, preferably over a period of time. “Over-communicate” during challenging times and across virtual teams, you will be surprised at how many attempts it would require to achieve a true mutual understanding.
To enhance your leadership communication mastery: