One of the first rules of communication is keeping it brief, so my usual preamble about why I’m currently writing my blog post is now a post-amble.
Communication Tools to Survive a Pandemic
Step 1: You have to understand the system to hack the system.
What system? Your communication system. And more specifically, you have to understand yourself. You need to precisely know what it is that triggers an emotional response in you. What is your communication partner doing that is making you angry, or sad or wanting to prove your point even more?
You don’t know? How are you going to find this out? Start paying attention to your emotions. Keep a log of your emotional state during the day and notice what was happening that may have led to the emotion.
8 AM: Woke up happy and ready for the day (I got a good night’s sleep and could hear birds singing outside the door).
9 AM: I got angry and yelled at my kids (despite them knowing where to look for their assignments from their teachers, they still weren’t ready to get on with the day).
10-11 AM: Mostly calm as I worked (I got some work done).
2 PM: Started to feel sad (My break from work had me looking at the news).
3 PM: I yelled at my partner (he left the laundry in the washing machine for me to deal with).
4 PM: Felt relieved (I was outside for a walk and things seemed somewhat normal once I had a moment to myself for reflection).
10 PM: Exhausted (I tried to make up for lost time after dinner and I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up this pace).
No way you say? Why not? What’s the alternative? As I have built my own communication system, I have come to understand that I only have control over myself and my reactions. Once I learned to understand the situations (and my personality makeup) that lead to my reaction, I co-created a communication system with my co-parent that minimizes the situations that lead to a reaction…in me. I will emphasize that it only takes one person to keep a meeting from derailing so even if your communication partner chooses not to do step 1, you can still have successful communication.
Step 2: Advise your communication partner that you are developing a communication system to promote Family Harmony.
More often than not, everyone has the same big picture goal. I have yet to meet someone who wants discord in life. When I ask people what it is they want in life, they say either “I want to be as happy and successful given my life circumstances” or “I want my children to be happy and successful given their life circumstances.”
Explain to your partner that you hope that one day you can communicate more effectively, and you want to enlist their help with this goal.
Step 3: Develop the communication protocols, ideally with your communication partner.
Now we are getting to the nitty-gritty details that work.
- Choose a time to talk when both you and your partner are less likely to be stressed out. Both you and your partner get input on when this time is.
- Do not use email or text as a communication tool to start or settle a discussion (most of you will be unable to do this). All I can say is, JUST DON’T DO IT. Only use email and texts to set up in person, telephone, or online meetings. Or in an emergency where your partner needs to know something right away.
- Determine what constitutes an emergency (determining what an Emergency is can be the meeting topic for your first meeting).
- Once you have set the time to talk, set the meeting Agenda. When setting the Agenda, keep the subject neutral and geared toward the positive outcome you want from the meeting. For example, “I want to talk to you about how to set up a homeschooling schedule so we can get through this period successfully.” Or, “I want to talk to you about family finances, so we make sure we are implementing processes that are going to lead to the best outcome for our family.”
- Have an in-person, telephone, or online meeting at the pre-arranged time. Do not cancel the last minute unless it is an Emergency (which, as noted above, you have established). Keep notes. In my case, I have telephone meetings with my co-parent, and we use Google Documents to keep notes. When one person talks, the other person types.
- Determine the length of the meeting in advance and stick to it. If new to this, I suggest forty-five minutes maximum. As you get better, you will be able to gauge when the continued conversation is not adding anything to the meeting and starting to hinder your communication.
- Stop or pause the meeting if either one of you has an emotional response (see Step 1). You must have self-awareness about when you have an emotional response. If you try to carry on when in an emotional state, you will make things worse. Believe me.
- Be willing to stop the meeting at the pre-established time, even if you have not finished what you had planned to finish.
- Set up another meeting at the end of your first meeting.
Step 4. Practice self-care and personal awareness-building during the breaks between meetings.
Despite thinking that I will someday have an ironclad system for everything, life is not like that. Life continually throws challenges and hurdles that we find ourselves having to navigate. And we change as a result of navigating our way through life. Therefore, your carefully crafted system is going to need constant upkeep and repair to keep working effectively for you.
So, you suddenly find yourself having to communicate with your partner a lot more these days. You’re stuck inside a 500 square foot apartment with them, in a separation process, or co-parenting arrangement with no apparent way out that doesn’t involve having to communicate with your current spouse, soon-to-be ex-spouse or co-parent.
And every time you talk with each other, everything gets that much worse.
The person on the other end of your conversation just doesn’t get it. You work harder to MAKE THEM SEE SENSE!
They refuse to see sense; they dig in their heels and argue their position even harder.
You look for other ways into their brain to make them get it, and after doing this repeatedly, day in and day out, you give up in defeat and go the next best solution: avoidance. Though, it’s hard to avoid someone that you’re in quarantine with…just saying.
I’ve been there, and ever since, I’ve been developing my communication system. And one day, despite my coach telling me that I cannot systemize everything, I will systemize my emotional response!