Have you noticed the tension in social interactions around you lately? Maybe some terse exchanges in the grocery line… a few harsh words with your quarantine family… impatience amongst colleagues?
Communication is strained
In times of high stress (like the one we’re in right now), communication can become strained. The collective anxiety, social isolation and uncertainty about the future are affecting our communication patterns. Circumstances are taxing us, and it can show up in our exchanges with each other.
This is a time when we start to misunderstand each other, to miscommunicate our intentions and to pull apart.
But what we need most right now is to support and collaborate with each other.
Communication is good for our mental health
Our communication skills are more important than ever; they help us clearly express ourselves and stay connected in positive ways.
Good mental health is supported by effective communication. When we can articulate ourselves, and really listen to others, it’s easier to understand and be there for each other. And to stay grounded and well.
While communication skills aren’t difficult, they do require practice. Like any muscle, we have to use them - or lose them! Here are a few good ones to practice:
1. Empathy Skills
Empathy is putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
Communicating with empathy is understanding a situation from another’s point of view, and letting them know that we get it. This skill is especially helpful when we get stuck in our own perspective.
For example: I would feel upset by that situation too – I understand why you feel the way you do.
2. Active Listening Skills
Active listening is being fully focused on what someone else is saying.
This requires that we put aside our own thoughts and perspective, to really tune in to what someone else is communicating. We have to make sure that we understand them, and let them know we heard them.
For example: I can hear that you are feeling overwhelmed with all the uncertainty, and not knowing when you will see your friends again is even more frustrating.
Open-mindedness is approaching an interaction non-judgmentally, and with curiosity.
This is communicating a willingness to consider viewpoints that are different than ours.
It’s about being receptive and flexible enough to stay engaged with someone, even when we are presented with a variety of new ideas and perspectives. It’s where growth can happen.
For example: That’s really interesting - I’ve never thought of it that way before. Can you tell me more about what that’s like for you?
We know that effective communication skills are good for us at the best of times. In these not-so-normal times, strong communication skills are even more important – they help us navigate the interpersonal bumps that will inevitably arise.
See if these tips can help smooth out that ride!
Lois Didyk, MSW, RSW, is a social worker with Michael Garron Hospital Mental Health Services. She has worked for the past 30 years with Community Outreach Services and more recently, with the Mental Health SCOPE Program.