- Disappearance of in-person meetings. it’s really amazing how many people we actually used to meet at various networking events. Those are gone, for the most part.
- Discomfort with the casual meetup. Just bumping in to people working in a third space – a coffee shop, the library, etc. – isn’t much happening, because those places are closed. And even to the extent some are open, just walking up to people there has us all adjusting our masks.
- Everyone’s trying to adjust at once. Speaking of adjustment, everyone is still adjusting to the pandemic rhythm. Sure, maybe we’re a little less frantic about learning the new technologies, but we’re still not feeling settled. This means we have less time and mental space for other new things.
- Shrinking Margins. Less time and space extends to money, too. It takes money to make changes in organizations. These margins make people wary of starting something else new – even casual conversations.
- SPAM!!! Of course. Whether intended or not (and a lot of it intended), the amount of spam has gone up as people are hoping to take advantage of the disruptions to make a buck. That increases the noise people have to filter through to get to a real conversation.
- Disinformation / Misinformation. Alongside more SPAM, people are getting increasingly wary of information – even from people they know. Misinformation (information that is wrong, usually accidentally) and disinformation (information that is wrong on purpose, with the intent to confuse or obscure – weaponized lying) have caused many to put up walls against new sources – including business conversations. This has the effect of reducing trust and thus slowing down business activity.
- Social / Political Litmus Tests. And because of this reduction in trust, people spend a lot of time testing others for common values and beliefs – usually for social and political congruity. Undergoing these tests, or avoiding them, prevents good conversations about business from getting started.
- Childcare, school, and care considerations. Virtual First Grade. These three words have changed the way we work and interact with the world. Schedules tighten up. Multitasking drags us away from focus. And doing the work of teacher and our regular job is intense. Moreover, sometimes we have to jump off of a meeting for a few minutes to get a 6-year-old back in class.
- General Uncertainty. While wait-and-see isn’t really a strategy, so many of us are in it. This prevents good decisions from getting made because people want the uncertainty to be over before they do anything. Except it’s still going to be a while.
- Online Meeting Fatigue. Some people call it “Zoomed Out.” Yes, it’s just harder to meet people online. There is something that feels more exhausting meeting someone online than it does in person. This makes it more overwhelming to do something that doesn’t seem urgent or essential in this exact moment. So we go back to wait-and-see, to have that conversation another day.
Let me be the first to say that we haven’t really settled into a true rhythm yet. We haven’t cracked the code on how to respond to these changing communication patterns and the disruptions we are experiencing. Here are some things, though, that seem to be helping.
- Authenticity. Coming across as “sales-y” doesn’t work well in normal circumstances. Now, since everything is mediated by electronics, it’s so much easier just to turn off the sales-y conversations. Be authentic, but not needy or desperate.
- Grace. No one is comfortable yet. Grace sets people at ease. “Thanks for your flexibility.” “It’s ok that you need to attend to your child.” “Sorry you have gotten sick. We can meet next week.”
- Curiosity. Find something genuinely interesting to talk about. Show genuine interest. This allows the next thing.
- Empathy. We acknowledge the hard things, and celebrate the good things.
- Focus. Stay on topic – help people to stay off the rabbit-trails that our minds are all going down because of our increased societal anxiety.
So how do we relate to the changing communication patterns?
We haven’t found a magic bullet yet.