Kerry Mitchell

Daniels professor shares tips for communicating better during this time 

Good communication skills are important anytime, but in the time of COVID-19 it’s especially vital. Many of us are working from home and communicating remotely—so we may be more focused on getting our technology to work correctly than we are on preparing our message or thinking about how it will be received.

Kerry Mitchell, an assistant teaching professor in management at the Daniels College of Business, shared five tips for communicating well in this challenging time.

(1) Be kind and empathetic.
Everyone is going through a lot these days. Some people have added responsibilities like homeschooling, some are ill or someone they love might be sick or dying. Many people are experiencing stress, trauma and uncertainty. Do your best to be kind and extra understanding. Be empathetic to others’ experiences and state of mind.

“I’ve seen someone receive an email or text that says, “Just sending you a hug,” and they almost cry because everybody is so stressed and anxious. I wouldn’t usually use emoticons, but add a smiley emoticon or give a wave in the grocery store when you’re wearing a mask and your smile can’t be seen. Showing that kindness can go a long way to help those emotions,” said Mitchell.

(2) Make sure you’re finding the right time and the right environment.
You may want to organize a virtual happy hour to get a dose of socializing in your day, but if you invited an essential worker who is just getting home from a tough shift, they might need time to decompress before they’re up for it. And although Zoom might be easy for you, the platform may not be the best choice for everyone, especially if they now have children home who may need their attention.

“I would check by asking, ‘Are you free and is it a good time to talk?’. And ask how they want to communicate. Social media might not be the right channel to use so be intentional about finding the time and environment that works best,” Mitchell said.

(3) Acknowledge emotion.
Tune into your emotions before you communicate and be aware that others may be experiencing difficult feelings. When you’re writing an email or discussing a new project on Zoom, your emotions can seep into the message you’re composing. Whether you feel anger, appreciation or frustration, take the time to handle your feelings first in the best ways for you—by taking a few deep breaths, meditating or having a cup of tea. Most people have high emotions right now, so it doesn’t take much to trigger emotional responses.

“If you are in that emotional state, take time to make sure you’re in a good place before you communicate. People are understanding and more accepting right now,” Mitchell said. “Along with acknowledging emotion, be sure not to take things personally and let go of judgment. Remember that stress is high so people aren’t reacting like they normally would. Be aware of what your own triggers are.”

(4) Avoid judgment.
In times of stress and uncertainty, we tend to have ideas of what is right and wrong. We tend to judge others in what they are doing and how they are handling things differently than we would.

“Avoid judgment and understand that everyone’s experiences are different. Some people have children home more often than usual while others are home alone with little human interaction. We are experiencing the effects of the pandemic differently,” said Mitchell.

(5) Listen.
In some cases, people will be angry or upset, confused or anxious. Let people share their experiences so they can feel heard. Then, you can move the conversation along.

“A lot of times when people get anxiety, anger or other strong emotions out then they can calm down and have a real discussion. They need to get out their story or emotion. Just don’t take it personally,” Mitchell said.

Although communication during the time of COVID-19 can be tricky, Mitchell said there are keys to being an effective communicator anytime, including:

  • Whether you’re speaking or writing, give it your full attention and focus.
  • Communicate with intention.
  • Be clear and direct.
  • Know who your audience is and consider their viewpoint.
  • Listen or read to understand the intention.

To learn more about how to navigate with remote workers, Executive Education is offering a free webinar Thursday, June 25. Alivin McBorrough will be sharing on the new decentralized workforce. Register.