No one ever would reflect on the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 and suggest it was a good thing in any way. The devastation in the U.S. and globally is beyond measure, exceeding a mere tally of infections and death. It quite simply changed the world. It also changed us.
Among the ways it changed us is the lessons it forced us to learn about communication. Of course, we all communicated before the pandemic. We were in touch, online and on social platforms. We met over coffee, attended conferences, walked trade show floors. We may not, however, have been nearly as focused on communication – its techniques, processes, and protocols – as we now are. COVID-19 made us think about our words, our appearance, our manners and style, because all of this and more became part of the new normal for communication during the pandemic.
By now, after months on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and other video platforms, we more fully understand both verbal and non-verbal communication. We recognize to a greater extent the behavior and body language of those we “meet.” We pay closer attention, taking care to not all speak at once, striving for clarity. The points we make are more succinct, the words we use more carefully chosen. We are generally more courteous and respectful, less domineering and demanding. We must be because the platforms magnify pomposity.
In addition, COVID-19 made us better listeners. Our headsets and ear buds and computer microphones differ in terms of quality and sensitivity. If we wish to keep up and stay tuned in to our meetings, we must pay attention and attend to one another. In a physical conference room, we might simply break in and command the floor. On ZOOM, it is far more difficult to do… especially when the host controls our mute button.
Perhaps most important, we are, in fact, meeting. We gather often. We share our lives and trepidations. We become more open with one another. An inspired member of my agency team proposed a weekly “Coffee Break” for all of us to gather on camera and just catch up. Perhaps we used to do this in the office kitchen, but never as the entire team. We are all together now talking about a child’s first steps, a wonky home air conditioner, children in need of outside time and dogs that bark at every sound. We are cranky together. We commiserate. We laugh together. We take care of one another. This little scheduled break from the demands of the workday simply would not have happened if it had not been forced on us. Now, we will never give it up.
The year before COVID-19, I was privileged to join with a small group of creative and determined entrepreneurs to establish a new joint venture for international communication. In the heady excitement of creating something completely from scratch, we agreed upon a founding principle – that human interaction and dialogue are the most powerful tools in the world for building understanding and motivating action. It seemed a little pretentious when we first committed the words to paper. Now, nearly a full year into the COVID-19 crisis, we live the full reality of this simple expression of our innate human need for communication.
We will never approach Thanksgiving with any inclination to be grateful for this devastating virus. This Thanksgiving, however, I will take a moment to give thanks to my colleagues and friends for being such devoted, resilient and eloquent communicators in spite of the coronavirus. Through words and emotions, on innumerable video calls, they shared their incandescent humanity. And for that, I am truly grateful.