Correcting a (Covid) Communication Killer

Correcting a (Covid) Communication Killer

March 14, 2021 News

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Our research at LeadingX2 unequivocally tells us that Open Communication is the number one driver of the quality of paired relationships

Remoteness, thanks to Covid, amplifies a life lesson:  STOP TEXTING AND EMAILING ABOUT HARD STUFF!!!!!! I scream this in all caps to evoke how one-way communication like this can feel. Doesn’t it grate on you?

Maybe a story illustrates better. I ran a couple miles to my daughter’s apartment in DC yesterday. I was in a great mood and texted Cece and Jen who were already inside packing for Cece’s coming move, “Hey, I’m outside. Let me in,” and then a few minutes later, still outside, cooling down from my run, looking up and down the street, and in absolutely no hurry, I jokingly texted again, “don’t you guys know how to text?”  When they finally let me in, I could feel the ice – not on my old joints, but in their voices.  Jen told me this morning, “We were in her closet with our arms full of clothes and boxes, and yes, we were mad at you for screaming at us.”  My “tease” sounded like a “scream.”

Let me add the fact that modern brain-and-psychological science is underscoring over and over again:  A part of our ancient brains senses threat, always. Jen and Cece in my story were already under threat – stressed – with the physical and psychological pressures of moving. So, their brains were in defense mode, and they were already ready for attack. So, that’s what they read in my “playful” message. 

The lesson:  When you get an email or text, you cannot hear their tone. Cannot hear the volume. The pitch. Or p…a…c…i…n…g. You see no facial expression to tell you to smile, relax, empathize, or yes, perhaps prepare yourself for a bombshell.

When we speak through text and email, we can only speak.  We cannot listen!

I am working with 6 organizational clients right now.  In every single one, their people are EXHAUSTED in a way I have never in my career sensed before. Exhausted people are especially in their defensive – already feeling attacked – brains. So, they are easily triggered.

Practical ways to successfully communicate: 
  1. Check in with your people – masked, zooming, or on the phone.
  2. Start with a simple, take-turns question, “What are you grateful for?”
  3. Then ask: “How are you?” Listen first. Quiet your impulses to speak. 
  4. Listen: to the cues that carry emotion and defensiveness. Tone, volume, pitch, p…a…c…i…n…g.
  5. Watch: for the facial and bodily cues of emotion and defensiveness. 

    If you must have a hard conversation, do not email! You need to listen! So: 

  6. Put on a mask and walk with them, or sit in their backyard where they can feel safer. And leave 3x time as much time for listening, over speaking.

May these days of lockdown end soon.  But while they last, see how you can adapt and what lasting lessons you can learn to

Lead with your best self.

About the author

Dan Mulhern: Dan Mulhern is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of leadership and organizational culture.

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