From the Couch to the Cubicle: 5 Tips for Improving In-Person Communication at Work

For nearly two decades, we’ve tried to use this blog platform to elevate the ideas and lessons we’ve learned. We’ve also tried to elevate smart voices from outside our field of expertise. Please meet Emily Jeanne Brown. She is an expert on embodied communications. In this piece, she helps us all reimagine the possibilities of how and where we can work most effectively – especially if that work means returning to an office environment.

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As Bay Area non-profits make the transition from remote to in-person work, knowing what employees need to thrive will be more important than ever. The pandemic has given us time to reflect on how we work as a society, highlighting how expected norms can be subtly shifted to promote well-being and productivity, improve company culture, and save organizations money. Key to making these shifts is attention to the quality of communication in what might be somewhat unfamiliar face to face situations. 

Here are five tips for improving internal communication during this moment of transition:

1.Feel your feet.

Effective communication is about so much more than message development and delivery. Without establishing a rooted foundation in the body, the most meticulously prepared presentation can still fall flat. And with our nervous systems re-acclimating to sharing physical space at work, it will be more important than ever to physically stabilize before launching into that all-important meeting. Try this: give yourself just three seconds to think “feet”, let your attention drop down to the sensation inside your shoes, and then begin to speak.

2. Allow your breath to come and go on its own.

Ever notice yourself holding your breath while your mind wanders off in a million directions? Sometimes, when we are trying to focus on a task, we stifle our most readily available communication resource: our own breath. Remembering that the breath works for us throughout the day–without us having to do anything–gives us access to more ease and inspiration when tackling challenging projects, like developing a crisis communication plan or a social media strategy. Try this: take a moment during your work day to notice your breath and assign a quality to it… is it tight, calm, smooth, ragged? Extra credit if you can do this without self-judgment!

3. Invite in, don’t spill out.

We know that good communication is about connecting with the listener. But that doesn’t mean we should overexert ourselves in an attempt to have an impact. Rather, we should recognize how constructing our own energy has a magnetizing effect on the people around us. Focus on inviting your listener into the grounded space you’ve established, and notice how your mode of communicating encourages the same grounded presence from your colleagues. Try this: close your eyes and take three deep breaths, feeling the internal calm you cultivate with each exhale. As you slowly open your eyes, imagine all the visual information in the room flowing in through your eyes toward your magnetic, grounded center.

4. Ask for what you need.

Working in person after being remote for so long is going to feel different. Rather than putting nose to the grindstone, gritting your teeth and pushing through, establish the discipline of asking for what you need. Hot take: the three tips above will help you identify what to ask for, and prepare you to ask for it.

5. Invest in professional development and/or self care.

As we collectively negotiate the evolution of the pandemic, adjusting our work, family and personal lives to meet the demands of the moment, it is crucial to set aside time for our own well-being and growth. This might mean hiring a coach to work on skill-building, or it may simply mean setting aside fifteen minutes each morning to practice some embodied mindfulness. Whatever it looks like for you, know that giving yourself that extra space to get curious and playful is going to make you a better collaborator when you show up to work in person. Hot take: if you are an employee, inquire about the possibilities for subsidized professional development – if you’re an employer, consider how providing this kind of opportunity will contribute to better communication among your employees and the folks your organization serves.

Achieving good outcomes at work requires more than good strategic planning. It also requires practical tools to keep ourselves grounded, centered and authentic as we are faced with high stakes, in-person interactions. For the first time in months, maybe years, we will be stepping outside of our screens and into real spaces to test out new communication strategies together. Rather than succumb to the overwhelm of this transition, let’s take it as an opportunity to take better care of our colleagues, our clients and ourselves, and watch as our communication flourishes as a result.

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Emily Jeanne Brown is an actor, musician and Embodied Voice Coach based in Brooklyn, NY. As the founder of OnVoice Coaching & Consulting, Emily has helped policymakers, educators, non-profit employees, software engineers, creative entrepreneurs and business owners become strong, intentional communicators. Using embodiment, breathwork and vocal technique, Emily supports her clients as they step into roles of transformative leadership and their most authentic selves. You can find out more about Emily’s work at www.emilyjeannebrown.com/onvoice

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