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Communication tips for returning to the work place

As states and communities begin to open back up and we start, in some cases, returning to offices and workplaces, it’s important to adapt your communication style and your expectations of others to look a bit different and accommodate for our new and ever-evolving “normal.” Here’s more from Lisa Mitchell, communications expert & founder of Power Body Language:

1) Things are going to look and feel different. Think through that experience ahead of time and make peace with it. 

When we are surprised or walk into something that is unexpected, we often automatically assign a negative or fearful quality to that place or thing and that negative feeling shows up in our communication. We will be more standoffish, we may shut down or be more reserved, or may feel so physically uncomfortable that we can’t communicate calmly or effectively. You may be walking into the same place you’ve worked at for 20 years but coming back in this mid-pandemic reality is going to come with some changes.

By mentally preparing yourself and processing how you might feel in advance, you can walk in to that environment with greater confidence and peace knowing that yes, things will be a little different, but you are prepared and aware in advance so you can handle it like the pro you are. 

2) Don’t take things personal.

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Co-workers who are usually really friendly and spend a lot of time hanging out together may be more reserved. That’s OK. Your regular lunch partner may decline and choose to eat in their office. That’s OK. A manager or team member who usually always has their door open might now prefer to keep their door shut to create more physical distance. That’s OK. 

People are going to do the things that they feel are going to keep them safest and best protected during the return to the workplace. It’s important to remember that this change in behavior is not a personal affront to you or to the feelings and respect that they have for their relationship with you, it’s just a personal decision that have made so they feel a little more in control of their environment and a little better protected. You can communicate your understanding of this need by checking in with them on their comfort level regarding their space, activities, and interactions with you throughout your work day and by respecting what they’re comfortable with without making them feel bad about it or letting it hurt your feelings. 

3) Show that you value connection even while maintaining safe physical distance and recommended safety protocols. 

Just because you need to be more mindful of space, shared spaces, and your environment for interaction, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make an effect to show that you still value connecting with your co-workers. Get creative in how you communicate with them, even if you’re in the same building or physical space. 

Don’t lose sight of the effectiveness of the remote working tools that proved good connectors during work from home or remote working like Slack, messenger, internal message boards and even video meetings. Using your non verbal and body language cues to show acknowledgement (like a wave or an eyebrow raise) and warmth (like a genuine smile, even if wearing a mask) when you are visible but distanced is also a great way to show someone that you see them, you acknowledge them, and your glad to be back in the same space with them.  

Most importantly, keep your patience and grace close at hand as you re-enter the work place. Don’t jump to conclusions about why people are doing things they are doing, everyone is going to have a different safety threshold and pace that they are comfortable with. If in doubt, ask them directly if they are comfortable, do they feel safe, and how you can best help them to feel both of those things in how you interact with them. 

For more from Lisa, visit powerbodylanguage.com or connect on Instagram at @lisamitchellindy.

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