Authors:Vicky Ling
Last updated:2023-09-18
Communication and change during COVID-19
Marc Bloomfield
With new ways of working resulting from the lockdown, ensuring you communicate well with your colleagues is more important than ever.
People have had to adjust their working methods radically in a very short period due to the impact of COVID-19. It has affected different legal disciplines in different ways. However, almost all lawyers are adjusting to remote working. This impacts on managing people and communication. Managers in legal practices are having to ensure there are still good channels of communication with all team members so that people can continue to do their best.
Many people who were used to being based in an office are now working remotely from home for all or part of the time. They may need to combine their paid work with childcare, schooling and caring for vulnerable family members. Individuals have responded to the changes in different ways, and it is worth thinking about how you and your colleagues may be feeling before you send that email or start that zoom call. It is particularly important if you are providing feedback on others’ performance.
Gabrielle Treanor, who is a life coach, has described stages of responding to the impact of the virus. The first phase, survival, is characterised by fear of the unknown, anxiety and just focusing on trying to get through the day ahead. During stage two, acceptance, people tend to be adjusting to their new routine, may be enjoying the small things of life and may be feeling less stressed. Stage three, growth, is marked by feeling more confident in the present moment, which can allow people to feel calmer and more patient. Although Treanor has identified three stages, it is important to remember that there isn’t necessarily a neat linear progression from one to another. On some days people may feel that they are just about surviving, on some they may be more accepting of the situation, and on others they may be able to look forward and see the potential for growth.
This applies to both people who are involved in a communication. It may sound obvious, but if you are feeling highly stressed and having a bad day, it is probably not the best time to have a difficult conversation with a colleague. If you are giving feedback, it’s a good idea to put the other person first and concentrate on what they are saying. It is often helpful to check that you have understood them by asking ‘It seems like what you’re saying is …?’ or ‘Can I just check, it sounds like what you’re saying is …?’, or repeating back the last thing they have said. Telling someone how they are feeling without giving them the opportunity to correct you or put something a different way can be dangerous.
If you are trying to get someone to change the way they are doing something, you need to negotiate. Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University, and her colleagues analysed thousands of hours of recorded conversations, including mediation hotlines, customer services and crisis situations involving the police. When they analysed mediation telephone calls, they found people were often quite resistant to the idea, but those who had already responded negatively when asked if they would like to attend mediation seemed to change their minds when the mediator used the phrase: ‘Would you be willing to come for a meeting?’1Elizabeth Stokoe, Talk: the science of conversation, Robinson, 2018.
In a work situation, you could ask someone whether they would be willing to try doing something a different way. Giving people space to think about new ideas can also be helpful, so when offering suggestions, you could say: ‘You don’t have to decide now, but please think about …’
Through questioning, you can gather information, hear the other’s point of view and highlight key aspects where development is possible. This can lead on to helping your colleague to take action and change. It can be helpful to use the AID framework:
Actions – concentrate on what the person is actually doing (or not doing).
Impact – explain the effect these are having.
Desired outcome – ask the person with whom you are speaking for suggestions about ways in which they could do things more effectively. You may be able to offer some ideas based on your experience; but it can be more successful to find out their ideas first.
1     Elizabeth Stokoe, Talk: the science of conversation, Robinson, 2018. »