Human-First Communication

One silver lining to our work-from-home situation is that we often hear more about the human side of our colleagues.  Taking a step back to realize that the person on video is also dealing with everything 2020 has brought helps us to see their humanity.

Instead of the typical sports and weather topics that we often chat about face-to-face before diving into a meeting, now we often get to hear about family members and pets and emotional states as we share common struggles. People are making more self-disclosures and revealing their humanity. This human-first communication makes finding commonalities and building strong relationships easier, and that is a good thing.

Communication research shows that when people make emotional self-disclosures there are benefits to themselves and the relationship.

  • Greater Self Affirmation – We feel more supported and confident after we share with others.  Recent study participants demonstrated this empirically by being less defensive toward threatening information, which is correlated to greater self-affirmation.
  • Higher Perception of Relationship Quality – We believe that we have a stronger relationship with the person to whom we self-disclose. Study participants reported that their conversation partner was warmer, that they enjoyed the interaction, and they even tended to like the partner more.

We receive these benefits because we feel others understand us and because we do something scholars call  ‘cognitive reappraisal’ wherein we think of situations in a new light and gain a broader perspective. Connecting on this human level is mutually beneficial.

Hopefully these improved relationships are lasting, and we can see them as a positive aspect of our otherwise tough situation. That seems to be a trend as we round into the third quarter of this year.  According to a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans believe the troubles of 2020 have made them a better person and 38% indicate they want to create more meaningful personal relationships.

We can embrace the greater human connection and foster stronger relationships for the future.  We can even “take your colleagues to the proverbial watercooler with you as you move around your home” expanding our shared environment and opening up greater creativity that is usually found away from desks at work.

When we slow down and remember that the person on our screen is human, we can appreciate the house tours and family interruptions that occur on video meetings.  Instead of seeing them as disruptions to work, we can see them as opportunities for building stronger professional relationships.