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How to have better conversations during COVID-19

By May 4, 2020No Comments

As the pandemic continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, our conversations may start to feel like they’re getting stale and repetitive – if not anxiety-inducing.

While there’s no denying that staying informed is important, it seems that as our social calendars empty out, our chats with family and friends always regress back to our new default: COVID-19. So we spoke to some experts for ideas for how to spice back up our conversations.

Connect with intent

Networking expert and author Janine Garner says there’s a difference between talking about the present COVID-19 situation – the case numbers, social distancing restrictions, the health and economic impacts – and how people are feeling. That’s because the latter takes the conversation away from uncertainty and fear, and towards questions that people can answer.

“I intentionally ask ‘how is your head feeling’ and ‘how is your heart feeling right now?’, Garner says. She also suggests asking “what’s working well for you right now?” as a way to change the energy from negative to positive.

Prepare conversation topics

Sometimes we have to take responsibility and lead the conversation, Garner says, so arm yourself with topics completely unrelated to COVID-19.

“It could be on the latest episode of MasterChef, or how good the weather is. Basically, anything other than the latest line from Scott Morrison or how hard this all is.”

Pop culture is a terrific conversation starter, so begin by discussing what you’re reading and watching. We’re also in the kitchen more, so chat about the latest recipes you’ve tried. Or look to exercise, and ask what style of workouts someone is doing or trails they’re walking. You can also bring up some of the fun social media memes or viral stories you’ve seen.
Anna Musson, etiquette expert at Good Manners, says it’s okay to be direct about changing the subject: “When [COVID-19] does come up, steer the conversation towards something else and if you can, sweetly mention that you’re taking a break from talking about it for an hour.”

Ask questions the right way

Musson recommends avoiding questions with “yes” or “no” answers and focusing on open questions, which involve words such as how, where, when or what were your thoughts.

“Don’t just ask the one question, go to the second and third question because that’s how you build the conversation. Otherwise you go back to ‘so how’s COVID-19?’.”

Be curious

Provide a space for someone to get out of the present and dream about the future, Garner says. One way to do this is by asking reflective questions about what they’ve actually enjoyed about this period of isolation, such as, “What do you want to keep when things go back to normal, what will you reinstate from our past lives, and what will you not do again?”

Challenge yourself

Garner suggests challenging yourself to not talk about the coronavirus crisis. Start with a day, then two, then aim for a whole week. “Try a week of not talking about COVID-19,” Garner says. “Tell everybody you meet you don’t want to talk about it and try these techniques instead… And see how your energy levels go.”

Still, let people vent

In your attempts to change your conversations, Musson says you should accept that some people will still feel a need to share their sorrow or concerns. “While you may be ready to talk about everything else but COVID-19, some people may need to vent,” Musson says. “It’s important to create a safe space for them to do that.”

Garner adds that when you bring up a topic, make sure you have follow-up questions to let the conversation continue to flow. For example, with MasterChef, don’t simply ask someone if they’re watching it. Ask what they thought of the latest episode, the challenge, the winner, the funny moments.
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