Despite some recent, exaggerated pronouncements that working from home (WFH) is “over,” a significant portion of the workforce is still working either remotely or in a hybrid format, and COVID isn’t the only thing that’s keeping them at home anymore. Sky-high gas prices, better work-life balance, and family-related needs are among the many reasons that many still prefer to work from home, even if it’s relatively safe to return to their workplaces in some capacity.
Having the option of WFH is a good thing for most workers. For women in the workforce, it can often mean the difference between continuing to work or being forced to reduce hours or leave work entirely. But there can be some potential downsides to WFH.
One of these drawbacks is the physical seclusion that sometimes comes with the territory. For communications professionals, this deprives us of the frequent feedback that we might be accustomed to. Unfortunately, when we’re stuck in our own heads, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes for effective and impactful communication.
Here are four ways you can be a communication coach to your own self and prevent your skills from getting too rusty even as you continue to work from home.
1. Record and study yourself
Beyoncé is widely considered one of the greatest live performers of all time, but there’s a reason for that. Yes, she’s blessed with natural talent, but she spends endless hours honing her craft, and one of her secrets is recording her live performances, the way many athletes do, and studying them to see where she can improve.
For communication pros, an equivalent of this would be recording your presentations, Zoom calls and/or phone calls (with permission, when appropriate) and then watching or listening to them and spotting things you can improve on. This might include verbal tics such as the use of filler words (the “ums” and “ahs”) or distracting physical habits. Recording and watching yourself can be painful, but it’s one of the best evidence-based practices to improve your speaking
After all, if even Beyoncé can keep finding things to improve, so can we all.
2. Talk to yourself like a friend
Research has found that most people talk to themselves in some shape or form. However, when it comes to improving your communication and performance, how you talk to yourself matters. Unfortunately, due to our natural negativity bias, far too many people talk to themselves in ways that are overly critical and unkind, especially those with perfectionist tendencies. Studies show that negative self-talk diminishes mental health and confidence, resulting in reduced goal-oriented performance.
A good rule of thumb that’s easy to remember and implement is this: if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Would you say, “Wow, you’re so stupid!” to a friend? If not, then why would you say it to yourself?
3. Talk to yourself in the third person
If negative self-talk can lower your confidence and well-being, it may be no surprise that the reverse is also true: positive self-talk can improve your well-being and performance. But once again, how you do the positive self-talk makes a difference.
Not all positive self-talk is equally effective, and as strange as it might seem, researchers have found self-distancing — or referring to oneself in the third person — to be the most effective. You know how basketball player Lebron James often refers to himself in the third person in interviews? That’s exactly how to do it, only you don’t need an audience (and, if you’re like most people, you probably don’t want one).
For example, I often give public talks, and before giving a particularly important one, I’ll say things to myself like, “Leilani’s going to give an amazing talk. She’s going to give the best talk she’s ever given.” Try it. It’s going to feel weird at first but keep practicing and you’ll get used to it. Most importantly, it works.
4. Give others advice on your own goals
Here’s another tip that may also sound strange but also works. Whatever your goals may be, find other people who share those same goals and give them advice about how to achieve them. Since everyone is unique, you might not find someone who shares all your goals, so just find someone who shares at least one goal, give that person advice and repeat the process with someone else who shares another one of your goals.
Not only does this seemingly odd technique work, research has found that it can work even better than seeking out advice. There are a few reasons for this.
First, the act of giving advice has the psychological effect of making us feel more confident, and confidence boosts goal-oriented achievement even just on its own. Secondly, it makes us more creative about additional ways to pursue our goals that would be effective. And third, giving advice to others about our own goals can have the effect of shifting our identity from being someone who needs help to someone who’s empowered to give it. And when we try on a certain identity, we’re more likely to engage in the kind of behavior that affirms that identity.
Maybe one of these days you’ll find yourself working in the office full-time again (hopefully, only if it works for you). But in the meantime, WFH is an ongoing reality for many of us. With these four tips you can make the best of your time alone and, if you return to the office, have your communication skills be nearly as sharp as the day you first started WFH.
Dr. Leilani Carver is the director of Graduate Strategic Communication and Leadership, the director of Undergraduate Communication and an associate professor of Strategic Communication and Leadership at Maryville.