Social Distancing? 7 Communication Tips for Maintaining Relationships

So, you are now in your second, third, or possibly even fourth week of social isolation. These times are tough on everyone (but more so on extroverts). On top of that, watching the news is like a bucket of negative emotions being dumped on your head on a daily basis, the future feels uncertain at best, and even the memes have lost their humorous potential… you miss your friends, colleagues, partners, interactions… Perhaps you are separated from your loved ones… What can you do?

Well, here are a few communication tips that can help you manage long-distance relationships better.

  1. First, be sure to stay in touch with your social network. Remain present, offer support and advice (when requested) – even if only from afar – but remember that your intuitions might be wrong. For instance, we tend to give more credit to readily available, very salient or memorable information! Try to keep an open mind! Most importantly, keep the conversation going. Pick up the phone and call, or use one of those great video-conferencing apps to share a smile and add beauty to their lives.
  2. And here we come to suggestion number two: Stay positive. And what better way to do that than by bringing positive emotions to others. Don’t be pedantical, don’t whine or complain too much, and refrain from all those pessimistic predictions you were about to make. Remain optimistic: a strong mental state is an important ally in the fight against isolation or disease! Be aware of the fact that your moods affect your perceptions and judgment!
  3. If you are in a long-distance relationship right now, it is essential to reassure the other person of your appreciation. Make sure they know, feel and understand how much you cherish them. Para-linguistic cues, such as tone of voice, pace, rhythm, pitch are crucial. Remember that speaking a little more softly and slowly can work wonders, and that a low, husky pitch often feels more reassuring and erotic. Write your loved ones a few kind and expressive words every day.
  4. Open up and use language that helps maintain intimacy.  Reveal personal details and ask deep, meaningful questions with open answers, be empathetic, listen actively and expansively. Use “we”, “us” to create a sense of togetherness, and pick up on the last 2-3 words of your interlocutor’s answer to ask a new question and get them to open up more. Be interested and build conversation bridges for later. For instance, by planning your day together or sharing activities (see below).
  5. Share daily routines, tasks and activities on- and offline. If you cannot go for a walk together, because your are in two different physical locations, at least go for a walk at about the same time, and then meet up online to share your experiences.
  6. If you must fight, resolve to do so after the lock-down is over, face-to-face, or at the very worst via Skype, Zoom or some other app where you can see each other’s faces. Countless signals and loads of non-verbal communication cues will go lost if you don’t, thus adding to the conflict. Remember, many of us are in a state of arousal at the moment, and that tends to cloud our judgment at times.
  7. Last, but definitely not least, be a good listener. Listening is the most important part of every conversation! Do not hog the floor, don’t overshare, and don’t diminish other people’s experiences (remember, they might be experiencing a different environment and reality)! Weather, social, political and economic conditions vary and they all impact perception. Depending on where they are in the world, people are subjected to different information flows or sources of stress. No wonder their moods, opinions or interpretations of events may be very dissimilar to yours. Show understanding and make a point to always end on a positive note! (I am suddenly reminded of that wonderful book by Milena Busquets, This Too Shall Pass…)

Social distancing should not mean social isolation. In fact, as someone aptly pointed out, the term is somewhat of a misnomer: it is more about physical distancing than about cutting off social connections. And to maintain meaningful connection, we absolutely must communicate. Articulate, refined communication is what sets humans apart from other species. At the best and at the worst of times, quality communication is essential.

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