The unexpected communication gift of COVID-19

Written by

Bianca Quarrell
Bianca’s passion is using the power of words to inspire action, change behaviour and unite tribes. That, along with empowering others to increase their own business writing skills so they can have more influence, is what gets her out of bed every day.
In the middle of a crisis, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. But out of this COVID-19 mess, there is one unexpected gem that shines brilliantly for all of us; and as a professional working in employee communication and engagement, it is especially shiny and exciting.

As we hunker down, doing our own personal bit to keep our loved ones, and the community at large, safe, it can feel overwhelming. Balancing work commitments from home, overseeing remote learning for our children, managing our households and relationships feels like a little too much, because it is a little too much!

But out of this mess, one unexpected communication gem shines brilliantly for all of us: AUTHENTICITY. 

You cannot be a great communicator without being authentic. This is one of our key messages when we run communication training workshops with leaders. Authentic behaviour – and showing vulnerability – builds trust and employee engagement, because people know you are being honest with them. Leaders in high-trust workplaces ask for help from colleagues instead of just telling them to do things. *Research has shown that this stimulates oxytocin production in others, increasing their trust and cooperation. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader; one who engages everyone to reach goals. 

There is no better time than now for authenticity when so many of us are feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed; and we’re feeling it at a time when videoconferencing is literally giving us a window into one another’s lives. Putting all that vulnerability – and sometimes just household madness – on show.

I’m not talking about the myriad videoconferencing faux pas we’ve seen (although they have certainly kept us all amused and oh how we need to keep laughing at times like this). I’m talking about the veneer, the polished edges coming off people. There’s a kind of beauty, a raw honesty in that. ‘Perfection’ is no longer important. This helps us connect with one another because it makes us all appear more human. 

Video – a medium that has traditionally been used as quite scripted and polished – is now being used to keep us all connected. We are unscripted, unpolished and not particularly well lit, (or even well or sometimes even fully dressed); but we are real. We are sharing our worries and frustrations, admitting that we don’t have all the answers, listening to one another and feeling empathy and compassion for everyone’s unique situations. 

My hope, as a professional communicator, is that we can take this authenticity with us into the brave new, pandemic-free world. That we keep on keeping it real, because it builds trust, which is the bedrock of true employee engagement, and it’s where true, human connection lies. 

Full disclosure: I wrote this in my hot pink dressing gown before getting myself semi-presentable for a work videoconference call, feeling a little anxious about balancing work with remote learning starting again tomorrow. 

* Paul J. Zac, The Neuroscience of Trust, Harvard Business Review 2017

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