The art of meaningful conversation and how to avoid communication overload
Over the last few months, the severe restrictions placed upon our civil liberties thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, have forced us to establish new ways of communicating with those around us – both in and out of the workplace. Video calling apps such as Zoom and Houseparty have become wildly popular, while the good, old-fashioned telephone call has also enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance.
But how many of the conversations that you have on a daily basis would you consider meaningful? Do you ever leave a conversation feeling frustrated and unheard? Or do you find yourself struggling with the burden of keeping in touch with all your friends, families and colleagues?
Yousra Abdelmoneim, a senior associate at PwC and ex network co-lead of its One Young World staff network, shares her thoughts on how we can master the art of a purposeful and empathetic conversation, and find new ways to find connection during these tough times.
Try to get the most out of your conversations
Always start the conversation by asking how the other person is feeling. This helps you gauge their current mindset, and signals to them that you’re opening the door to a deeper conversation. By giving them the opportunity and the space to talk about their emotions without shame or inhibition, even if they choose not to, you’re letting them know that you’re on their level and that you’re ready to listen.
Throughout the conversation, whatever the topic, try to actively listen to everything they’re saying and ask follow-up questions to show that you’ve understood.
Meaningful communication cannot exist without good listening. So, whenever someone is talking, try not to focus on your next response, but instead do your best to understand and relate to what they’re saying. This will allow you to listen with empathy, and will help the person you’re speaking to feel heard and supported.
Try to find a natural rhythm to the conversation and avoid speaking over the other person. Silence is always preferable to interrupting. Every relationship can withstand a little awkwardness, so try to lean into it. And remember, you don’t always have to give advice – it’s not your job to fix everything.
Finally, if you’re having trouble communicating with family members or friends, we’ve all been on one of those stilted video calls, don’t give up. It’s the showing up that counts. You might feel you can’t express yourself properly or that you run out of things to say, but that’s OK. Being present is what matters.
How to avoid over-communication and set clear boundaries
For the vast majority of us, our phones and laptops are now our primary means of communication. This makes it really easy for us to get sucked into bad habits, like thinking we always have to read our texts and respond instantly.
I really recommend putting your phone on silent or disabling instant messaging notifications. With social distancing a lot of people tend to send messages and post things, so it can really feel overwhelming. Be mindful in what you consume and choose to engage when you want to. If you need to switch off, just let those who might worry about you know you’re safe and that you’ll be in touch soon. Most of the time, if someone needs to get in touch urgently, they will call.
Special occasions should still be special
I’d recommend setting up a calendar with important dates as it's very easy these days to lose track of what day it is and forget. Make it clear to the person ahead of time that you want to speak to them on that day to show them that you care. But do remember to make good and follow through on your promise because it could already be really disappointing for them that the occasion is affected by social distancing. Your call could have been a highlight they would be upset to miss.
You could also plan something fun to do virtually or if it's appropriate, at a distance, and be creative while you’re at it. For example, if it's a friend or a family member’s birthday you can still light up a candle and sing them happy birthday on a video call, or have a socially distanced picnic.
Make sure you send cards and gifts via mail using websites that have safe delivery options. E-cards are another option if you want to avoid potential delays with the post, but many people enjoy receiving mail and having something to open - particularly at the moment.
Also, remember to celebrate and share the little things, for example if you manage to cook a new recipe or have tried a new workout, mention it! For instance, I’ve started training for a half marathon and by telling and sharing this with my friends they’ve all been very supportive and have held me accountable to my goals by checking in regularly and asking how my training is going - this has made the world of difference particularly on days where I’ve felt demotivated or just lazy.
Communicating sensitive news
Firstly, find how much information they already know. Once you have done this you should then establish that they are in the right environment to receive the news, for example if someone is unwell. If they are in a safe space, you can then start to relay the facts as clearly and as sympathetically as possible, gauging throughout the extent to which they'd like to be informed about the details. Make sure you don’t comment on their reaction, as people can respond in different ways to bad news. Offer them your support and find out how often and in what ways they’d like to be kept updated. If they are isolating alone be conscious to check in on them.
But remember: always think before you act and check the information is accurate and up to date. Spreading misinformation can trigger fear and panic and can cause people to act irrationally. It also triggers anxiety, which can severely affect people's mental health.
Written by Yousra Abdelmoneim
Yousra Abdelmoneim is an ACA exam qualified chartered accountant and part CIA qualified working at PwC within the London Top Tier Assurance Risk Assurance department as an internal auditor and as Business Risk and Controls senior associate. She worked within Banking and Capital Markets Assurance department as an external auditor at PwC previously. She's really passionate about social mobility, supporting refugees into professional employment, empowering young people and and is on the team of NewGen Accountants which providinge advice and support to those pursuing a career in accountancy. She's a One Young World Ambassador and previously co-led the One Young World network at PwC which aims to raise awareness of global issues happening around the world. She is on the Steering Committee for the Multicultural Business Network (MBN) which aims to support ethnic minorities with career progression and development at PwC and promotes cultural diversity so people become more culturally agile.
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