Effect of Social Distancing on Behavior And Communication
As the COVID19 pandemic forces us all to remain indoors, we start getting used to the concept of work from home. I am sure you have read and understood enough content on social distancing. But does this new working setup create another environment for us that we need to get used to – the stepping into our spouse’s “zone”?
The concept of space is well described and understood by those who follow nonverbal communication. We have what is known as personal space in which we allow only our very close ones to step in. Then there is the professional distance around us wherein people we know but are not very close can enter. And then there is social distance. Which we maintain with people we don’t know. Is this space strictly physical in nature? Yes and no. Whether we are emotionally drained or not, financially well off or not, reasonably less populated or not, these factors play a role in how close to us we allow people to step in.
How does this apply to recent times? Well, as we work from home, our concepts of what are professional mannerisms, behavior, demeanor, etc start getting diffused with our personal lives. During coaching assignments, I often work with senior leaders who have confided that their demeanor and hence body language is totally different when they are in their professional setup versus when they are with their family at home. They often have their own ways of balancing out this need to be different, because, of course, most of the time our office and home are separate worlds altogether.
When we work from home today, with no clear vision of when this situation will change, we face the cognitive dissonance of how to behave when taking a video call with colleagues when the child might be around. Or when the spouse gives us a shout to help in the kitchen but there is an important email that requires our attention. Can we switch from the professional self to the personal self quickly enough? Perhaps not! This is why, here are a few quick tips that as spouses we need to remember if we see that our better half is seemingly behaving differently than he or she normally does:
- Even though our demeanor might change, our body reactions when we are stressed generally remain the same, no matter whether we are with office colleagues or family. To give an example, I have a habit of fiddling with my ring when I am in a dilemma, facing a tough decision to be made. Does this change whether my dilemma is to execute a marketing strategy or whether to allow my child to play at a friend’s place? No! So as spouses, we generally would know how our better halves behave, and what body signals they give out when they are stressed. These are the ones to watch out for.
- Now that we have made a mental note of the body signals of our spouse, how exactly can these be used? Well, supposing you glance up from your work, look at your spouse, and ask them if they can take the ringing landline phone and they give their typical reaction to stress, you know they are handling an urgent issue and you should probably take the call. They may be too nice to deny, but their body language has given you the correct signal.
- Sometimes, if your spouse is a permanent stay-at-home person, they might feel that their territory is being “invaded” by you, now working from home day in and day out. This is not because they want to necessarily call all the shots, but remember, they are used to having the home to themselves generally when you are out to work. Give them the benefit of doubt, and sort out where you can work so that you don’t overstep into their space, a space within the home where they normally spend their day when you are at the office.
These may seem like minor issues, but generally, when we don’t learn to watch out for body language signals in each other when the signals are subtle and minute, these could snowball into a landslide of grudges for each other. What today are just simple jokes floating around about how domestic complaints have gone up or divorce filings have risen can actually be avoided if we let ourselves be guided by our spouses’ body signals.
So happy co-existing with your new work colleague – your spouse! Stay safe, and take care!
About the author: Khyati is a body language coach and works with senior leaders to sharpen the edge that they have in their professional space by teaching them nonverbal strategies and working with them at a personal level to improve their own body language.
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