Can I kiss your buttocks? The challenge of communication post lockdown.
Is it only me or have we all forgotten how to talk to people?
The last 18 months have felt like a crazy social experiment in testing human relationships and communication skills. We couldn’t leave our four walls to see the world but thankfully communication technology allowed us to welcome the world in. But as everything is opening up again, have we forgotten how to communicate physically rather than virtually?
My own Covid-19 communication experience was heightened, as something equally life-changing, messy and all-encompassing hit me like a ton of bricks. A few months before the C word – I became a mum! I went into hospital for one of my routine pregnancy scans and came home six days later with a baby boy, so it wasn’t quite the start I had in mind.
After the initial few months of craziness cultivating a tiny human being, the blur of sleep deprivation and ‘just trying to survive’ mentality of motherhood, I was just getting ready to meet other grown-ups. However, the universe had other plans and we entered lockdown one.
Losing my way in lockdown
Like everyone, my social interactions consisted of video calls for months. However, most of my daily communication consisted of singing nursery rhymes and babbling wildly. I kept in touch with friends and family at all hours through my omnipresent smartphone, but most of the messages were far from smart – unusually littered with spelling errors (quickly blames sleep deprivation). Snippets of actual conversation consisted of little more challenging than the weather, our daily walks or nappy habits.
Around my son’s first birthday I found myself facing a return to work, without a work to return to. Fortuitously it gave me an opportunity to set up my own business, working from home and flexing around a newly established family life. The first few months were great. I rose to the challenge and got the old grey cells firing again. Organising something other than a change bag was stimulating and I thrived on setting up the business. Remote working was working well.
However, there was a doubt lurking in the dusty recesses of my brain. It grew and loomed larger. Have I forgotten how to talk to adults?
I found myself recounting conversations and cringing at what I’d said, how I’d prattled on, the questions I didn’t ask and the mistakes I’d made. Was this just me? Was this baby-brain? Was this Covid-19? Did this mean I wasn’t any good at my job any more?
Damn you autocorrect
Even before Covid-19 struck, our communication was changing thanks to quick-fire email, text and live-chat technology. #autocorrect is one of my guilty pleasures and we can all share stories of inappropriate typos, but we do need to be careful. After a couple of near misses, I had to change my computer dictionary to avoid autocorrecting a client brand to ‘Sniper’.
As a professional proofreader and copywriter I double and triple check everything. I have the luxury and professional discipline to review word choice and check spellings. But during these hedonistic, post-lockdown times of physically meeting up with people, I don’t have the luxury of review time. I just get carried away with the real-world excitement and appear to have no control over my mouth. And here’s just one hilarious example of my brain and mouth misfiring…
Now there’s an offer you don’t get every day
My middle-aged neighbour was proudly showing off his new motorbike to a friend in the street. As I was gingerly reversing the car to avoid him, he shouted ‘don’t worry, you’ll hit me before my bike.’ Instead of offering a lightening quip about skimming his backside with my bumper, my befuddled brain blurted out, ‘I’ll just kiss your buttocks.’
After the initial shock, I regained my composure and while making a quick getaway, shouted out the window, ‘now there’s an offer you don’t get every day!’
It seems I was just so out of practice even my brain and mouth had stopped communicating. When I met face-to-face with a close friend earlier this year, we laughed about suffering from verbal diarrhoea. We opened our mouths and there was an outpouring of our emotions and life’s fibre following the Covid-19 restrictions. That’s fine if you’re in a safe space – but (excuse the continuing analogy) you don’t want to be running to the bathroom as you’re trying to secure a new client.
We also realised we weren’t listening to each other. We were so focused on exorcising what we wanted to say, that we didn’t converse. We talked at each other, not with each other.
In marketing communication basics, we’re taught we have two ears and only one mouth. To have a meaningful conversation, it’s imperative we take time to listen. Whether it’s with a close friend or in marketing, it’s no different. The better we listen, the better we understand our audience and the better we can converse or, the ultimate marketing goal - convert.
The rise and curse of Zoom
Everyone’s communication has been inevitably affected by the pandemic. A recent survey claimed that the majority of organisations increased the number of emails they sent during the pandemic. Video conferencing has become the norm. Zoom has become a verb and sales increased by 370% in the last three months of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. No wonder the etiquette of chatting has changed dramatically. (I’d even argue the use of ‘chat’ has been redefined – it’s now more strongly linked with a digital interaction but that debate’s for another day.)
There’s a staccato style to group discussion on video conferencing. And reassuringly for me, even the best communicators have come unstuck. We’ve all been in a group video waiting for a gap in conversation so long that the point’s been lost. Or had half of our ‘drop the mike’ salient sentence cut off by poor internet connection, someone cutting in, a random filter popping up or the dog barking.
So, I’m reassured it isn’t just me who’s been struggling. As we all get to grips with the ever-changing communication methods and new world of working, I’ll continue to practise talking to grown-ups, whether it’s in the flesh or virtually.
I’ll continue to make (and enjoy) the occasional faux pas. Despite our best intentions, nobody’s perfect. I learn from mistakes and diligently work to put them right. And that’s what keeps me in business. I’ve worked with clients for many years to help them avoid errors, embarrassment or the hefty bill to put things right.
Great communication can’t be rushed, shouldn’t be undertaken flippantly and often takes a few attempts to get right. Two heads are better than one and a second pair of eyes will always be of benefit.
My two eyes, two ears and ten fingers are here whenever you want some help. Whether it’s a final check, content creation or an editing tweak here and there. And it would be great to hear your embarrassing stories too.