How to Find Intimacy in Communication in a Time of Social Distance

For most people, the current COVID-19 outbreak has presented two challenges. First, this is a crisis of visibility. With the virus growing in scope and impact each day, it’s impossible to know how long our lives, our health and our work will be affected. Business leaders can have very little impact on resolving this issue. That’s mostly in the hands of the doctors and researchers working tirelessly to fight this scourge.

The second issue is a crisis of connection. With so many people working from home, it’s easy to feel a lack of connection with colleagues, clients and business partners. It’s easy to feel isolated, even if we’re all isolated together. Here is where communication can play a meaningful role.

Stay Connected Through Meaningful Communication

Truth is, business environments breed meaningful relationships. In an era when we hear a lot about work-life balance or separating business from pleasure, the reality is that work relationships dominate our daily routine. We come to know our closest clients as friends. We look forward to meetings with colleagues. We seek validation in the networking and engagement we need to win business.

Good business leaders know the importance of these relationships. In fact, over the past decade or so, intimacy has been a hallmark of effective internal communications, with leadership going from top-down edicts to what business schools commonly call “organizational conversation.” Having credible conversations with employees, colleagues and customers relies on intimacy through trust and is based on simple actions like listening and showing emotional intelligence. Why? Because you are credible and trusted when you communicate directly, authentically and personally.

Embrace Emotional Proximity

Harvard Business Review tackled the issue of conversational intimacy almost a decade ago. The good news is that it doesn’t require physically being with business partners to pull off. As Harvard professor Boris Groysberg put it then (in terms that resonate now in the era of social distance), “Physical proximity between leaders and employees isn’t always feasible. Nor is it essential. What is essential is mental or emotional proximity.”

Show Empathy

Making sure that your communication is geared toward that mental and emotional proximity is vital. As we’ve said, these are the times when your values matter most. Showing your empathy for the challenges of your customers, colleagues and even competitors now – speaking to all in direct, intimate and authentic terms – will set you up to be trusted with people’s business when this current crisis has passed.

Express Care First

Guess what? You’re probably already doing some of this, in little ways. Just look at the emails or texts you’ve sent to colleagues, clients or friends these past two weeks. You’re probably replacing the soulless “Hope you are well” lines with something akin to “I hope your family and coworkers are safe and healthy right now.” If you’re doing regular check-ins with your staff, you’re more than likely starting your Zoom meetings with thanks for the sacrifices they are making and hoping they are all healthy and safe. You’re picking up the phone when previously an email would do. Most likely, you’re expressing care for others, before you get down to business.

Why? Well, because you really do care. It matters to your stakeholders that you care about them on this authentic level, and they appreciate it more than ever to hear you say it.

In times when it’s easy to feel isolated and alone, this kind of intimacy has lasting implications.

Related: Communicating Your Values Has Never Been More Important