As reported COVID-19 cases have dropped nationwide, most activities have returned in person. For some, your face-to-face communication skills may still be a bit out of practice.
There are a lot of steps you can take to improve your interactions. Jennifer Jones Barbour, Ph.D., is an associate professor of instruction and the associate director of the Moody College of Communication’s Communication and Leadership Degree program at The University of Texas at Austin. She suggests these tips as you get back in the swing of communicating in person.
Active listening is one of the most important parts of face-to-face communication. “An active listener isn’t listening to think of what to say next. An active listener is someone who’s listening to learn more about the person who’s talking,” she says.
Listening attentively can inspire curious questions, which can lead to deeper conversation and connection for those involved in the interaction.
If you find yourself struggling with active listening, tell yourself to engage in nonverbal communication such as eye contact and nodding your head. Your brain processes your body’s actions, and by engaging in listening behavior, you start to actively listen.
Be Clear Beyond Your Words
Tone and energy are two key components when it comes to communicating clearly. Whether you’re trying to be heard or get your point across, the way you say something is just as important as what you say.
“We get a lot of sense of energy from the tonal quality of the words we’re hearing,” Jones Barbour says. “We’re not one level—we’re up and down.” Whether it’s excitement, joy, or even sadness, communicating with energy and emotion can help you convey your message more effectively.
People know when you’re faking interest or excitement and will quickly be turned off to your message if you’re not genuine. Authentically communicating naturally conveys energy and emotion, which will help build clarity between you and your audience. Listeners will perceive you more positively, too.
Put the Screens Away
It’s easier to mentally check out when you have your camera off during a Zoom meeting or even on a phone call. That’s because you don’t have to perform nonverbal listening behavior that helps keep you engaged and actively listening. “We’ve sort of been able to get out of practice of listening because it looks like we’re there, it looks like we’re paying attention, but we’re not,” says Jones Barbour.
Throughout the pandemic, many people relied on their phones and other screens to connect with others. “As we move back out into public spaces, put the phone down,” she says.
Offer Grace to Others and Yourself
Imagine you and everyone else has a window of what they can tolerate. These windows can open or close incrementally. Life during the COVID-19 pandemic closed many people’s windows, Jones Barbour says. People may be less resilient for the time being.
As you are getting back to face-to-face communication, ask yourself, how open is my window of tolerance? Check in with how you are feeling.
By doing that, you’re also more likely to understand if someone else is having a hard time reconnecting in person or, say, being unusually hostile or withdrawn. Their window might be more closed right now.
“We need to offer grace to ourselves and others,” says Jones Barbour.