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Communication takes many forms
May 4, 2020   |  News

Communication is What Ties us Together

Co-authored by Lisa Levesque

Over the past several weeks, as we have encouraged leaders to reconsider how to support their employees, how to step up for their communities, and how to build the value of their businesses, a theme has run through every article: communication. Despite being socially distanced, communication remains the fundamental tool at our disposal for stepping up as leaders in all facets of our responsibilities. Being forced to work remotely while dealing with a global crisis has given us a roadmap for how we can, and should, work differently while maintaining our effectiveness – from the tools we use to the messages we share.

How we communicate has changed dramatically over the past several weeks. We have all spent endless hours on Zoom calls, WebEx meetings, Google Meets, WhatsApp video calls, and using myriad other technologies that felt like “nice to have” capabilities in 2019. Video calls have several obvious advantages over many other forms of communication. They allow us to pick up on non-verbal cues that are absent from voice calls and they support real time discussions that can resolve questions faster than email. But how many of us are relieved to see others turn off their video on a Zoom call, knowing we can follow their lead and allow ourselves a momentary break from the virtual face-to-face? Sometimes the burden of being on camera can be exhausting and video calls are just one option available for reaching out to others. We can choose to reserve video calls for hashing out a tricky point or finding moments of interpersonal connection. Sending a quick email allows the recipient space to think about a response without pressure to put on a brave face right that moment. Dropping a package in the mail, whether it contains a business card in a thank you note or art from your toddler, can give the recipient a thrill unmatched by digital alternatives.

“Always video calls, always with video on” was great advice for a brief interruption to our daily schedules, however, as the shelter orders and distancing measures continue a more nuanced approach is required. Taking full advantage of the variety of tools at your disposal is crucial because communicating is about far more than transmitting information. Of course we all have transactional data to communicate, terms to align, and offerings that can only be accepted if we have put them out for others to find. But sometimes the “message” we wish to share is more abstract – the desire to evoke an emotion. Like the painted rock one reader reported seeing while walking her dogs in the woods, the word “smile” with a painted rainbow says so much more than a single word. Within a business context, sending an email simply to let someone in your network know that you are thinking of them shares a message of care that may carry more weight than a dozen messages emphasizing the COVID discounts you are offering. Showing someone that you were thinking of them a few days ago and were willing to wait for the postal service to bring the fruit of your thoughts to their doorstep conveys far more than envelope contents.

So often, the key messages we send are found in our actions rather than our words. The decisions we make in support of our employees, communities, customers, suppliers, and beyond tell the world what we value and where we draw our lines. Being deemed “essential” is only a small piece of the picture that determines who can and should be in the office. “Essential” businesses who have chosen to shut their doors face key decisions as they begin to discuss reopening. Almost everyone is saying the right things around protecting their people and respecting the ongoing risks that the pandemic poses but, in practice, some are still pressuring their teams to return to the office despite lack of childcare or ongoing concern over vulnerable cohabitants. These businesses may have changed for a few weeks but failing to evolve into a culture that continues to respect the needs of employees when pressure to return to “normal” ramps up may find their workforce fleeing as soon as the job market restabilizes. Words are so easy to string together but we have the responsibility now to demonstrate our values and our priorities beyond our pretty emails and eloquent speeches.

In rounding out our final article, we wanted to take a moment to round out the series and the unique challenges and opportunities leaders face right now. Whether you are looking down-and-in to your team, up-and-out to your community, building value, or matching actions to words to set an example you would be proud to have emulated, communication is key and we communicate most with our actions. This crisis has forced leaders to reassess their philosophies and commitments with many expanding their focus beyond the bottom line. Those who continue to demonstrate their commitment to these ideals, whether long standing or newly discovered, will find that their decisions sit well in the years to come, regardless of the final outcomes. Leading through the good times has challenges, to be sure, but this pandemic has offered us a rare chance to take a step back and consider what “leadership” truly means to each of us. As we have explored throughout this series, leading, and leading well, goes beyond money and words. What will you be proudest of when you look back on your time as a leader in the Age of COVID?

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