The paradox of us communicators!

The virtual reality demands of us to improvise our communication skills in the absence of non-verbal communication 

A few months ago, if someone had pointed out that critical decisions are to be made virtually without a face-to-face interaction, I would have laughed at the very thought of it. What rubbish! How can we make decisions without a meeting? How can we collectively come to a conclusion without being in the same room? 

Today, I catch myself being part of virtual discussions wherein decision making is critical and an important task. The rules of engagement have changed for all of us, and how. None of us would have visualised this scenario ever.

Each one of us is working towards presenting a sense of community albeit, virtually. It is a whole new order for everyone. And it requires work and re-work. It also isn’t that easy as it sounds. Non verbal cues have a unique place in getting to know people, team members and interacting with colleagues. They also help building and consolidating trust. As human beings, we create meaningful relationships through non verbal communication. Imagine now as communicators, having to do away with this altogether! 

The virtual reality (an oxymoronic world that we live in today!) demands of us to improvise our communication skills in the absence of non-verbal communication! We are inundated with calls and more calls or virtual meetings. I have experienced many days wherein my calendar is choc-a-bloc with calls and more calls throughout the day. I know I am not alone. Verbal communication is swamping us and playing havoc with our work-life balance. 

Our paradox world

One may well argue that uncertainty is not the best of times to build trust. But then, it is in these very uncertain times that we need to navigate our path and find new ways of creating that virtuous circle of trust and communication in the absence of non-verbal communication.

“HOW wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” So said Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics.

Sitting in front of the laptop for hours is resulting in eye strain, tired wrists and fingers and a mental fatigue of life as it is. Pardon me, but my cynicism is warranted in this case. As communicators I am sure all of us miss nonverbal communication and the solace that it brings with it.

In this digital world we need to find ways to communicate better and more effectively. Tone of voice plays an important role and an empathetic voice goes a long way in setting the right note in the beginning of any virtual call/meeting. Maintain your core authenticity and let your voice and the warmth in it convey the same to your colleagues and partners. Your pauses, your pitch and your voice inflection over the phone is a gateway to your thinking. So be mindful here.

Where and when possible, switch to the video format so that you can actually view each other and make up for that very much missing face-to-face interaction. Many colleagues hold virtual coffee meets. I know of functions where the weekends are reserved for virtual family picnics or gatherings! To each their own – the idea is to improvise on the situation that we are all currently struggling with and find new ways to enrich our lives.

Allow room for integrated decisions to happen. Even through virtual calls/video conferencing, one can debate, have a point of view, agree to disagree and arrive at a conclusion. In this world, we have to heighten the sense of listening to what has been unsaid. If you do not know something, it is best to acknowledge it. Not everyone is supposed to know everything! There has to be room for learning new things and gaining different insights. By being honest you create an environment of psychological safety wherein everyone feels safe and confident to share and participate in equal measure.

The pandemic is teaching each one of us to find our own way to communicate. Accept the situation and be innovative in your messaging and tone. Good attitude in the end, is contagious and we can all certainly do with more of that!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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