Have you ever fired off an email or text message and felt something heavy tug at the bottom of your stomach? How you wish you could turn back the clock, become a time traveller and stop your earlier self from that act of self-destruction?? Yes, I have been there.
Digital interactions have started consuming more of our time with texting and emailing taking more of our time than face to face personal conversations. Such communications are becoming even more relevant in the current work from home scenario. Previously you could just walk up and get clarification or even state your disagreements in person. Not anymore!!
If we are spending so much time with digital communications, surely we should all get better at it!!
So what are a few simple techniques one can use in digital communication? How do we stop ourselves from being reactive and get control while communicating digitally?
Here are some “mindful awareness” techniques that I have learnt.
1. Create space for awareness: The first step is actually looking at how our body is reacting at these moments. Heat flushes your face or perhaps your back and neck tighten, your jaw starts crunching and your breath becomes shallow and right there, you are in the grip of an efficient, prehistoric psychological response. During moments of conflict, our evolutionary trait is to protect ourselves comes to fore!!
Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls it the Amygdala Hijack. An amygdala hijack exhibits three signs: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and post-episode realization if the reaction was inappropriate.
The first step is to be aware of what is happening within. A key tenet of mindfulness is to be aware of what is going on with you and others.
2. Learn to Pause – I have learnt, after a few mistakes, never to respond when I’m agitated. An agitated threatened mind is full of judgments. The negativity causes stressful hormones and this isn’t a time to send any message. If you still feel very strongly about responding, then type the message but don’t send it. Come back in 24 hours and reflect on it. I have realized that by then I’m much calmer and usually delete the message or modify the original message!!
Pausing has given enough time for your rational thinking mind to come to play. Your prefrontal cortex has time to come back online helping you make a skilful response.
3. Find specific times for email – Emails are the most intrusive things that happen to us. Surely we have been in meetings where someone pulled up their phone and started sending messages “Sorry I have to send this one message”. Not only is it disrespectful but it also shows a lack of presence and many times we are usually only reacting.
Over time, I have learnt to keep specific times for checking my messages. My routine involved checking emails when I start work, around lunch and again at the end of the day. I would then shut my email program so that I could be present fully at my work or meetings. I became far more productive and my communication and relationships improved significantly.
Instead of attacking and recoiling, and later justifying our reactions, we can learn to stay present, participate in regulating our own nervous system, and eventually, develop new, more free and helpful ways of interacting. When you can focus on the other person also being a fellow human, you can increase your empathy and social awareness. Empathy is an essential skill that one needs to pull from their armoury when crafting difficult messages. After all, empathy enables an opening for understanding, collaboration and positive outlook.
As the future of the working life becomes more virtual becoming better at Empathetic Communication is more essential than ever.
Welcome to the second article of my 18 part series called "Tee off with Ramkey". Here, I will be sharing my key learnings and perspectives from working in large organizations around 10 countries in the world. I hope you find my writing purposeful in helping you launch yourself and navigate complexities in the world. Feel free to connect with me and give me feedback. I'm a Partner at Alchemy Management Consultancy, where we are constantly enabling Leaders to navigate change in uncertain times. Through our coaching and leadership development programs, we build on your inherent capabilities and help achieve extraordinary results.