Tips for Effective Communication During the Pandemic

Attending on-campus classes and maintaining a sense of community — all while staying safe — is a complicated endeavor. We are learning to live, socialize, and communicate in our beloved Obieland in a new and potentially-uncomfortable way. This begs the question: How do we approach talking about safety on campus during COVID-19?

While it is necessary to have these conversations about community care and responsibility, we must also be careful to facilitate a supportive and inclusive environment where all student voices are heard. According to techniques from a counselling method called motivational interviewing, open communication is more powerful for inducing behavioral changes than shaming, yelling, or lecturing. 

Voicing our needs and having conversations about comfort during this abnormal time feels awkward. It can be anxiety-inducing, challenging, and altogether peculiar. Particularly as we find new ways to interact with one another, it is important to consider how each individual has their own subjective experience with the pandemic based on their identity and background. Especially because these times present contradicting wants and needs due to our panoply of differing — and often intersecting — identities.

Here are some tips and examples of things to keep in mind while having conversations around staying safe during COVID-19:

1. Do not make assumptions based on gender identity, racial identity, sexual orientation, etc.

2. Be honest and transparent! Do not pretend you know things you do not!

a. Instead, try something along the lines: “I honestly am not aware of what you are talking about/referring to. If you feel comfortable, could you possibly elaborate? Or lead me in the right direction so I can do my own research?”

3. Similarity is not sameness, even with shared identities! Not all lived experiences are the same.

4. Speak about your own personal experiences using ‘I’ statements. Do not speak on a different group’s oppression based on your own oppression or experience.

5. Silence!

a. It may feel uncomfortable but slowing down a conversation can help curb assumptions and foster genuine reflection.

b. Silence can help with fully understanding where someone is coming from before reacting or jumping to conclusions. This is crucial to effective communication!

6. Open-ended questions and clarifying questions allow us to explore how someone feels about a specific situation!

a. This is more productive than close-ended questions, which have yes or no answers, or leading questions, which present a direction you want someone to respond to. 

b. Here are some positive examples:

 “How would you describe…”

“What does it mean to you that…” 

“What do you think of when you hear or see…”

“When you talk about ____, what exactly do you mean by that?”

“How do you see this conversation moving forward?”

7. Mirroring language and paraphrasing lets others know you are engaged and can help you better understand where your peer is coming from.

a. Try using the exact language word for word when talking to someone except where it is harmful, such as hate speech. 

b. Here are some examples:

“So, what I am hearing is that…”

“It sounds like…” 

8. Validation and affirmations

a. Try validating your peer’s experience without minimizing it or validating negative language.

b. Validation allows you and your peer to feel heard and safe in the space you are attempting to create with one another.

9. Agency is vital to understand in all conversations about support and well-being.

a. You have every right to start a conversation with a loved one, professor, advisor, peer, or anyone else about your needs.

b. Conversely, you also have the right to take yourself out of any situation that you believe is unsafe for you.

c. Your safety and comfort are the number one priority during these conversations! Try practicing gentle stretching in situations that are abnormal for you.

10. Nonverbal communication and active listening

a. Nods and eye contact can make a significant contribution to the space you create.

11. Normalization of experience can help you and your peers feel listened to and less isolated. At the end of the day, we are all figuring out how to make sense of the world we live in!

It is vital to be aware and respectful of how our identities impact our relationship with the pandemic in our conversations with others. This will allow us to hear everyone’s needs, thereby promoting community care and responsibility.