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The pandemic has seen us alter many aspects of our lives – the way that we communicate being one of them. It’s fair to say we’ve probably all sat through more Zoom and Teams calls in the past than year than we ever have before. Whilst this has been a means to an end and a blessing that has allowed business and social communications to continue, it has also likely caused us to slip into some bad habits that just won’t cut it in a post-pandemic world.

Here, Tony Hughes, CEO of global negotiation, sales and communication specialists, Huthwaite International, highlights the five bad communication habits that you ned to ditch now, as we hone our virtual communication skills and gradually increase our face-to-face communication.

Talking for the sake of talking

The phrase ‘listen first, speak second’ often comes to mind when we think about bad communication habits. The main problem is that when you don’t listen, you don’t understand – which can be detrimental to communications. Because of this, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when communicating is talking for the sake of talking. From experience we can all note that it is painfully irritating when someone keeps talking over you and simply isn’t listening to what you are saying. This is a bad habit that you may have picked up through virtual communications – as it can be that bit trickier to know when others have finished expressing their views. This is because you don’t have the same cues that you do in person that indicate when they have said everything they wish to say.

With that in mind make sure that when communications in person resume, you take the time to listen carefully, digest the information you’re hearing and then share your thoughts once the other person has finished theirs. If you aren’t listening, it usually means you’re talking and the danger is that you miss an opportunity to discover how you can really help someone and make them feel valued.

Practising irritating verbal behaviours

Virtual communications can be irritating – we all know that. It almost goes without saying that you won’t go on a Zoom call without hearing the phrase ‘you’re on mute’, or ‘my wi-fi is really slow’ or ‘you sound a bit robotic.’ This means that before a conversation even fully begins, there are multiple barriers that can cause participants to feel irritated. Because of this, it’s crucial that your personal behaviours do not add to this irritation. However, there’s a chance that this could be a habit you’ve slipped into, usually without even realising.

At some point during a virtual call, you may have found yourself using self-praising declarations. This includes words such as ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’. You may be doing so just to let the speaker know you’re interested and listening; however, this kind of language can be irritating as it undermines the person you’re speaking to. Steer clear of these words and show your interest through non-verbal behaviours such as nods and open body language. Other irritating phrases you may have picked up whilst communicating through the pandemic may include telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’ or ‘that you’re trying to be frank’. A lack of face-to-face communications can make it trickier to build personal and trustworthy relationships, but these phrases indicate a lack of sincerity or that you were previously dishonest. It’s best to stop these habits in their tracks ahead of face-to-face communications resuming as it can cause lasting damage to relationships. Try instead to build strong relationships through relating on a personal level, listening properly, asking questions and taking an interest.

Getting caught in a defend/attack spiral

This is when communications can spiral out of control. There’s a chance that if your online meetings have led to a rise in tension or have been fuelled with irritating verbal behaviours – this type of situation may have occurred. A defend/attack spiral occurs when focus shifts from the problem, such as a deadline or a proposal idea, to the person themselves and the conversation therefore becomes personal. Tensions can rise quicker on virtual calls due to miscommunications and can be trickier to resolve.

Skilled communicators avoid this behaviour during a conversation, as it can generate frustration and can end very negatively. Usually, involvement in a defend/attack spiral is a heat of the moment reaction and it can be tricky to stop in its tracks. However, it is certainly a behaviour that you don’t want to slip into post-pandemic so try to nip it in the bud now and find other more successful ways to communicate in order to diffuse a situation. In order to do so, communicators should aim to understand and resolve, rather than react. This allows the conversation to become open and a solution to be achieved harmoniously.

Neglecting to implement structure

Having a clear structure to a meeting can make all the difference between one that is successful and one that is not. Due to the nature of video calls, they can sometimes feel more informal and with that, there can be a slipping in standards. You might find that you’ve attended a business call that has no clear purpose, no agenda and no one chairing the meeting. This can lead to chaos and most importantly a really ineffective way to communicate. Try to get into the habit of implementing everything that you would in a boardroom meeting into your online calls too. This will ensure that when face-to-face meetings do resume, you’re more prepared to have a properly structured and successful meeting.

Try to nominate a meeting manager/chair who can steer and guide the conversation productively. Ensure each meeting has a purpose and make it clear to all involved from the start. Also, take into consideration who is attending each meeting – base your decisions on your meeting invitations around the meeting purpose. Planning for a meeting can be an unpopular task, but taking a few minutes to think through the structure and purpose of your conversation can really help you to achieve your objectives.

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