If you’re finding communication a bit challenging at the moment, you're not alone. Between endless Zoom meetings, WhatsApp chats and work emails, there seem to be more ways to talk than ever.
But with so many demands on our time and attention, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Whether it's a shouty message group you could do without, or yet another virtual social engagement you'd prefer to swerve, we've got some advice for overcoming five communication challenges affecting many of us right now:
1.) The interminable Zoom call
How do you conclude a video call when you clearly have nowhere else to be? Many of us will have been secretly disappointed when Zoom lifted its 40-minute time limit: that five-minute countdown was the ultimate get-out clause.
If you sense it’s time to draw a meeting or chat to a close, the chances are that others do too. In a work scenario, you could offer to send a summary and next steps by email, while thanking others for their time. On a social call, a friendly ‘It’s been so great to catch up’ or ‘Thank you for suggesting a call’ will usually do the trick.
2.) The incessant virtual invitations
It’s bingo with friends one night and a family quiz the next – not to mention that Zoom wedding you’re attending on Saturday. Far from dampening our social lives, lockdown seems to have enhanced them. But if drinks-by-laptop don’t quite cut it for you, or you’re just not feeling that sociable, how can you decline an invitation without offending the organiser?
It’s fine to be honest and say that you’re lying low for a bit but will catch up properly soon. Alternatively, you could invent another engagement – there’s no need to go into specifics (just remember whatever it is you’ve invented, and remember to be ‘unavailable’ when you said you were going to be).
As for virtual weddings, baby showers and birthday parties, you’ll just have to dig deep (and dig out your best outfit) and get involved. Your friends are likely to be disappointed not to be celebrating their special day as planned, so the least you can do is make an effort. That means turning up on time and staying until the end, just as you would in person.
3.) The passive-aggressive work email thread
Many of us are feeling underproductive right now, and when business is slow it’s easy to become defensive or blame others. Email is not the best medium for diplomacy, so if you’re worried that inter-colleague communication is becoming a little prickly, pick up the phone instead. Hearing someone’s voice humanises them, and you’re less likely to be snarky or snide. And guaranteed, you’ll resolve whatever issue you were discussing much more quickly than through endless written back-and-forths.
4.) The neighbourhood WhatsApp group
You don’t need to be reminded that it’s Clap for Carers night again, and you’ve already seen that hilarious TikTok video thank you very much. Nor are you much interested in your neighbours’ online shopping dramas or fruitless searches for flour.
One word: mute. If your WhatsApp groups are filling your phone with unwanted drama, you’re entitled to ignore them. Pressing the ‘mute’ option allows you to take back control – without the controversy-causing act of actually leaving the group.
5.) The radio silence
It’s the email that goes unanswered for several weeks, or the text message left awkwardly hanging without a reply. On the flipside of compulsive over-communicating seems to be a tendency for ignoring contact right now.
Let’s face it, life – and communication – are weird at the moment, and you can’t blame others for dropping the ball occasionally. In a work exchange, someone may have been furloughed without your knowledge, or may be juggling multiple responsibilities from home. Try not to take it personally; instead, leave it a week or so (a couple of days will suffice for a text message) before sending a polite follow-up. If you still don’t hear anything, move on. You can always check in again when all this is over…
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