True confession. As a communications professional and former news junkie, I advocate for consistent, honest, and frequent conversation, outreach, and connection. I’m also finding it harder and harder to practice what I preach. My inbox overfloweth with unread emails. My calendar could be filled 24/7 with virtual coffees, webinars, or meetings with clients. I’m blocking out the stuff that makes me angry or depressed. And my social media feeds feel like they are exploding with some great content that I don’t have the time or energy to read. No wonder I’m exhausted.
Communications fatigue was setting in before COVID-19, but now, with our semi-hibernation, our efforts to stay in touch require more effort and even greater constancy. Our lives exist on screens. Gone are the happy run-ins with a friend or neighbor at the grocery store or mall. Gone are the chats in the coffee room or hallway. Absent is the insightful one-on-one conversation that follows the in-person meeting. Serendipity has vanished from our lives. Virtually every encounter requires careful planning and intentionality.
At first, finding new ways to use Zoom and other online platforms to connect was cool and exciting. I “saw” some family members for a lunch more often in the past few months than during the whole of last year. That’s a good thing. But on the downside, many virtual meetings feel like drudgery. Maybe it’s because you have to look at yourself, as well as others, and realize, “OMG, I’ve got an angry face,” or “Whoa, I thought that shirt looked good on me but, yikes!”
Efficient, virtual meetings lack the emotional component of an in-room encounter. You work twice as hard to elicit responses from people, who may have turned off their camera and are sorting through junk mail. In-person meetings can be frustrating and even anger-worthy, but at least you felt the emotion. You could sit down afterward and talk things out. I don’t care what experts say. It just isn’t the same.
But since this pandemic will be with us for a while and those of us who can work virtually will continue to do so, we can’t give up. Communication is the foundation for relationships, and if we stop, our relationships wither. We must keep our written and spoken interactions going. So here are my thoughts for being more effective at that:
Focus on who and what is most important. The constant reassessment of who you need and want to connect with matters, and it matters a lot. For those in business, it’s important to stay in front of clients—current, past, and future. In the nonprofit world, supporters and donors are still your lifeline. And for both, staying connected to your employees who make your organization run is paramount. They are key to your success and they need to hear from you.
Exercise restraint. Be mindful of what you send and how much you send. I’m frustrated when I subscribe to blog posts and then get one every day. It’s too much. And when it comes to social media, don’t try to be on every platform. Pick one or two and focus on building relationships within the platform.
Divide and conquer. Don’t try to connect with everyone every day. Communicate in appropriate shares with family, friends, and work connections. In your professional life, plan to reach out to one or two people every day, just to check-in. And don’t always try to sell. Send a funny video or compelling article occasionally in the interest of staying engaged.
Be multi-modal. Email is by far one of the best ways to connect in business. But with crowded inboxes and improving spam filters, your message may not be heard. Instead, mix it up. Send an email. Then try a text. Connect through a social platform. And I’ve rediscovered good old-fashioned phone tech. On the phone, without the benefit of a visual, you must listen hard and can hear the emotion—sometimes more effectively than what you see.
Put down the devices. Yes, turn all of it off so you can recharge. Go on a communication fast even if only for a few hours. You will feel refreshed. It’s good for your eyes and the soul.
Yes, communicating is exhausting. But it’s not just about posting your stuff or sifting through endless emails. Good communication is a two-way conversation. It’s a bridge to people and purpose. And by launching and answering effective outreach, we fortify connections, sustain relationships, and prepare for a future when coronavirus doesn’t dictate how those communications are conducted.