Covid-19 – How we communicate

Covid-19 – How we communicate

I feel anxiety and sometimes fear about what’s happening in the world today, as the global situation we find ourselves in has not happened before in my lifetime. I’m very worried about people in my family and social circles who have an underlying health issue. I admit to having bought an extra package of toilet paper the other day and I still contemplate on the reason why I did that (it has to do with feelings around possible lack). My husband, our teenagers and I talk every day about our feelings on covid-19. I notice my kids have a huge desire to talk about how they perceive the events in the world, and I want to give them all the time they need. I feel uncertainty about the health care system’s ability in my country to cope with the developments. I have a hard time navigating between sources of information and it feels impossible to form a true understanding of the ongoing pandemic and this easily throws me off balance. To sum up: I have a lot of feelings on covid-19 that come and go, rise and fall in intensity…

For the past week, I (as well as I guess pretty much the entire population of this earth) have been reading covid-19-related communication. People are sharing millions of graphs, videos, pictures, texts and quotes about covid-19 in their social media channels. As I’m writing this, #covid-19 has 1.85 million tweets. Covid-hashtags on Instagram are up at almost half a million. And that’s just people who have added a hashtag to their posts.

I wonder how many people are aware (and I mean: really AWARE) that with every graph, every text and every comment they share, they are actively communicating and that their communication has an effect? I have worked with professional communication for 20+ years and this is what I want to share:

Communicating is a skill. And in the case of covid-19 I believe it is to all our benefit if we are super-aware of how we choose to communicate. Because communicating about it, let’s face it: we will. Right?

I am talking about how we put words together in sentences. And what it is we are saying really?

Here are a few examples of sentences I have read in my social media feed these past days:

We will lose control over propagation for sure.
The problem is, ….
OK, I don’t want to scare, but ….
(mathematical graph without a source explained)

I believe words are important. The way you put words together is important. Even small changes to how you formulate a sentence can have totally different effects. Check it out:

What if the person who wrote: We will lose control over propagation for sure.
would write:
I’m not an expert but the thought of us potentially losing control over propagation scares me.
?
Immediately the notion of us definitely losing something would disappear and instead we can read about what a person is feeling regarding a certain possible future scenario.

What if the person who wrote: The problem is, ….
would write:
I’m not an expert but I perceive … to be problematic because …. (and this makes me feel ….)
?
Immediately the idea that this person is an expert and what she/he is writing is an absolute truth would disappear and we can read about this individual’s opinion about a subject (and hopefully what she/he feels about it, which to me is much more interesting).

What if the (non-expert) person who wrote: OK, I don’t want to scare, but … (and then follows to explain a mathematical graph from an unmentioned source)
would write instead:
I found a graph, I don’t know the source of it, but I want to share it with you because these numbers frighten me.
Even though this person writes he does not want to scare, the way he communicates can have exactly this effect. Because the numbers from that particular graph looked pretty scary to me. So, if this person still desperately wants to share that information, why not at least mention the source of the statistics (it ought to be mandatory) but most of all: write about what’s really going on?

I believe that fear is an underlying feeling that many of us share but that not many people choose to include in their communication on covid-19. And as a result, because many people lack the understanding of communication principles, their communication adds to the feeling of fear in other people. This is problematic because, as the ancient philosopher Chuang Tzu said:

Little fears cause anxiety, and big fears cause panic.

I feel that in the same way it’s vital for us to follow our health-experts advice right now, it’s of equal importance for all of us to carefully examine our own communication around covid-19. What is your underlying feeling when you write or share something?

For example: the whole world is slowing down its pace today, does that make you feel scared? Why not write that openly instead of (consciously or unconsciously) implying you are an expert or possess “The Truth”? If this makes you bump onto issues regarding showing your own vulnerability, this might be an excellent time to watch or read the researcher and expert Brené Brown’s stuff on the subject.

The writer, psychologist and Buddhist Jack Kornfield published a piece called When Fear Arises. He writes about the importance of acknowledging our feelings and not pushing any of them away, especially not fear:

If we keep avoiding the feeling of fear, then we have to build barriers and defenses, closing ourselves off from every experience where fear might arise. Not only is this impossible to do, but it results in a narrow and restricted way of living. We close our hearts and close off the possibility of true vitality, compassion and growth.

I believe that now is an excellent time for us to open up for more awareness and depth inside ourselves. To dare to be honest and communicate how we are really feeling. If we open up and choose to communicate carefully and consciously, I believe we can shift the narrative around covid-19 and I feel this is desperately needed today. Communication is important and all of us have a part to play.

Remembering the following words from the Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön about how we are not our feelings helps me greatly especially in times like these, so I end this blog post by sharing them with you. I hope these words will inspire you too!

You are the sky.
Everything else is just the weather.   

Thank you for reading! ♥ 

Photo: Arto Marttinen – unsplash.com

Interested in Brené Brown? You can for example:
Watch her TED-talk: The Power Of Vulnerability.
Watch her talk on Netflix: The Call to Courage.
Check out her book: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (she has written several other interesting books as well)

Want to read Jack Kornfields writing on fear? You can find it on his website.


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