Authentic Communication in a Pandemic World
The challenge to be an effective communicator in our COVID-19 pandemic world is not as much about what you say but getting people to listen.
Isolation, distractions, and fluid circumstances make it hard for people to focus on one thing, let alone pay attention to you. Passive listening is more prevalent as video call participants check email and social media accounts during calls. Non-verbal cues that help us communicate and understand each other are obscure. It is hard to get feedback from a participant who turns off their video. Now we must frame our words more carefully and be more intentional about listening.
Even in person, communicating with other people is more complicated. Masks and social distancing make for awkward in-person interactions. When we can be present with others, making strong connections while standing six feet apart remains difficult. For some, not being able to hug a friend prompts negative internal emotions.
One thing that remains the same is our need for authentic human connection. For most people, isolation is challenging. Disruption of usual relational patterns tests the strength of friendships. Our people may not be available anymore.
If you ask me what most people crave above everything else, I will say that it is authentic relationships.
Authentic relationships require authentic communication. Authentic communicators engage in learning about themselves, others, and how to make meaningful connections that result in effective communication. The most effective communication happens when two or more people are authentic communicators.
Interact Truthfully with Others
Authentic communicators convey the truth about what they are thinking, feeling, choosing, or doing. They are excellent communicators and conversationalists. They are open to new ideas and seek to understand other people without feeling threaten or defensive. There is mutual respect without judgmental stereotypes. They are curious and take time to listen. Their words seek to inspire rather than control or belittle. Authentic communicators have an advantage over the manipulative and self-promotion games people play. Other authentic people will want to be around and converse with you.
How to Be an Authentic Communicator
You can take steps to become a more authentic communicator by doing three things.
Consider Your Level of Personal Authenticity
When you feel good about yourself, possess self-confidence, and determine what is important to you, communication gets more authentic. The need to impress others for selfish gain or overcome insecurities melt away. Authentic communicators hold healthy views about themselves and avoid falling for relational games other people play.
Think More About Others
Not everyone interprets communication the same way. Something might make sense to you and be meaningless to another person. Understanding how other people interpret information and emotion will provide clarifying insight into their personality. Taking time to understand their values uncovers what is meaningful to them. Together, this information provides insight into what motivates them.
Craft a Message That Will Connect
Your messages consist of content and delivery. Structure your words in ways that resonate with others. Address your listeners’ concerns the way they want to hear it. Speaking about what is meaningful to them will give them a reason to listen. Your delivery and other non-verbal expressions are crucial to ensure that others hear what you say. Your movement should support your message and draw others into your words. Making your message hard to listen to because it is poorly structured or delivered gives any audience an immediate reason to dismiss you.
Authenticity Requires Work on Your Part
Authentic people have healthy self-identities that do not require them to withhold information, hide their emotions, divert attention, or play meaningless relational games. Gaining and maintaining a healthy self-identity requires work each day; it is a personal growth process. Those with healthy self-identities do not need others to inform their view of themselves but find value and purpose from within that overflows into authentic relationships.
Everyone makes mistakes and needs to receive some grace. Perhaps some of us need a lot of forgiveness even when we do not deserve it. If we care about authentic connection and deep relationships, we must hold space for each other with a curious mind and open heart.
Authenticity is hard when others are quick to judge. While we need to protect ourselves from those who will harm us, we can risk being authentic to see if it finds a willing partner.
The Difference Between Authenticity and Transparency
Many people become uncomfortable when placed into situations requiring self-disclosure. People generally want to be known by others and know the person they interact with regularly. Challenges occur when others probe too quickly or deeply into sensitive topics or when a person engages in behavior that erodes trust.
Authentic communicators want to be accurate and forthcoming in all situations to reach every audience every time. Transparent communicators are more vulnerable and need to choose their audiences carefully. While transparency provides rich communication, it should be appropriate for the situation.
For many people, stepping into authenticity creates a sense of fear. Authenticity improves communication because it frees the speaker to say what is on their mind and heart. At the same time, the thought of being authentic may produce paralyzing fear. The audience’s unknown reaction can prompt feelings of inadequacy that can lead anyone to shrink from the challenge.
Fear can be healthy. Fear keeps us humble and can steer us away from bad situations. Treat your angst as warning signs about what you believe about yourself, your audience, and your message. Guard against allowing negative past experiences or lies you hold to prevent you from being an authentic communicator.
Changing Methods of Communication
Authentic communicators can adapt to any form of communication or audience type. Listeners will pay attention to effective, authentic communicators. Whether you are presenting live or online, facilitating a group discussion, providing instruction, contributing within a team, or engaging in a conversation, your ability to communicate authentically will prompt others to listen and move them to action.
Steve Tonkin is the author and trainer of Authentic Communicator. A one-day training event offered exclusively through Effective Presentations.