People Don’t Read or Listen.

Maybe that’s harsh. Maybe people do read, they just don’t retain information or process it, or synthesize it in order to use it for good.

I run an online and in person collective, outside of teaching communication skills. Every week, I post something for our “Promo Monday” – a day everyone can promote their jam, business, service – very exciting day. Very busy in terms of engagement and very normalizing in these weird times. And every post says, “Start a new thread!” – for the past two years.

And every post, I have to close comments and tell people to start a new thread versus just posting in the comments.

What’s shaking here, and how does that connect to our soft skill development? Many of us will be moving a lot of our communication online for the immediate and foreseeable future. Even if offices get back to some kind of in-person interaction, many are choosing to keep meetings and staff gatherings limited to online interactions. This might be a move to fewer meetings (I’m not hopeful) and more likely will be a move to more Zoom and video meetings and conference calls.

Let’s look at two different situations that I bet you’re experiencing right now:

1) You get an email and you scan it in the interest of time. You click respond (hopefully not reply all) and shoot out an email, plopping the original in a ‘done’ folder of sorts. Someone asks you about the contents of the email in a later email and you realize you have no idea. Not because you’ve been incredibly busy, but because you realize you didn’t fully process the email. You look it back up and realize, oops, your response wasn’t the clearest.

2) You’re on a video or phone call. Maybe you’re taking notes, maybe you aren’t. The meeting wraps up and you have an action item or two from it, so you visit your notes or start those items…and you draw a blank. It feels like you were on autopilot during that meeting and now you have to do something with the information you possibly got during that call or video call…and you aren’t even sure you got all of the info you needed! You realize you’re going to have to either a) ask a lot of questions or b) wing it and possibly have to redo the work.

Sound familiar?

Much like the virus hasn’t gone away while we’ve been in various degrees of shelter in place, your need for active listening and communication skill development is still there – and might be a bit larger than before. There have been plenty of think pieces on why it’s hard to concentrate right now (um, pandemic and global upheaval) or hard to be on Zoom all day (try being in a meeting with a mirror in front of you the entire time. May the odds be in your favor.) Your soft skills, specifically listening, interpersonal communication, conversation, comprehension, and retention, need love too.

A few things you can do immediately:

Take notes on meetings and important emails. I don’t care if you scribble something down or reflect afterward. We’re under stress right now. Retention is hard.

Make a choice to listen. It’s a conscious choice and it’s like turning on a light. You need to say to yourself, “I’m going to listen now” and then actually do it. If you don’t know HOW to listen, try focusing on remembering at least two points and have one question. It might be a question you ask or it might be a question you look up afterward.

Respond versus react. A response requires thought, time, and processing. A reaction is all emotion.

Assertive communication is the best. Try the first step in assertive communication – checking in with yourself in the moment. Are you expressing the emotion you’re feeling and what you want, or are you holding it in and back? If you’re holding, why?

These are just a few reasons to continue to focus in on your soft skills, even when everything else is changing. If you’d like more ideas or some training courses, hop over to The Engaging Educator for our upcoming remote interactive and prerecorded programming!

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