If you are feeling a little mixed about the return to ‘normal’ and will soon be heading back into the office, you are far from alone.
Many of us have spent more than a year framed by a flat screen or furloughed. That’s why in this article I’m offering four thoughts to help you confidently find your stride when returning to the office.
1. Be mindful that not everyone perceives the return as you do.
Whether you are feeling excited or apprehensive, remember not everyone will have experienced the last year as you have or feel as you do about the return. People’s feelings may also fluctuate from day to day as they reacclimatise to being in a once familiar but now altered environment.
If you’re feeling anxious, you can help calm yourself by breathing properly. I offer two breathing exercises here that anyone can do. This one is best done first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This one can be done anytime and anywhere.
If you are feeling enthused, be mindful of others’ personal space and that enthusiasm can lead us to overtalk or interrupt. Listening to others, really listening, is a powerful way to help them begin to feel more comfortable. To be a better listener:
Look at the speaker, give them your full attention and stay quiet.
Iterate their phrases to encourage them to expand their point(s).
Show interest and clarify understanding by asking open questions.
Tease out what’s glossed over or not said.
Encourage them to talk by expressing your support.
Now summarise & empathise without judging or offering solutions.
2. Remember your body language and that of others tells a story.
For the first time in a long time your entire body is going to be in the frame. Body language communicates much of our overall message.
Actively observing the body language of others can tell you a great deal about how they are feeling. This insight can help you think about how to best approach and engage with them.
There are also minor changes you can make to your posture to help you look
and feel more confident - even if you don’t really feel it. Master of body language Amy Cuddy tells us how to do this in her hugely popular and eye-opening TED talk:
3. Strive to find your voice and help others find theirs.
Although many employers and leaders are working hard to create safe working spaces for everyone to return, it is impossible to plan for every eventuality. What do you say, for example, if a key client offers you their hand to shake upon meeting? Thinking about this ahead of time will help you both avoid awkwardness.
While in lockdown we’ve become used to interacting with a select group of people. It perhaps won’t be surprising to find many voices notably quieter than they were this time last year. If yours is one of them, challenge yourself to speak up – particularly if something happens to make you feel uncomfortable. By speaking up you’ll encourage others to do so too.
If you are chairing a meeting and notice people are reluctant to contribute, there are things you can do to include them in the conversation.
4. Keep in mind it’s not only what you say but how you say it that matters.
Bear in mind it’s not only your words but how you say them that matters to your message. Your voice leaks information and impacts others: pausing and holding the space will encourage your listener to be more reflective, while a confident tone, faster pace and higher pitch can convey excitement.
How we perceive voice is determined by a blend of different elements – Speed, Pitch, Intonation, Loudness and Tone. Check out my Speaking Secrets article to better understand how you can use them to sound more impactful. You'll learn how five fantastic TED speakers uses a different vocal element to best effect.
So, here’s to impromptu catch ups over coffee, being back in the big picture and confidently re-finding your stride, all of which coincide with the big office unlock.
Susan Room is an International Coaching Federation (ICF) Professional Certified Coach (PCC). She’s one of the rare few qualified to provide voice and executive coaching, her unique approach sees her help others feel, look and sound confident – improving performance and happiness at work. Susan’s Make Your Mark group programme is valuable to those at every career stage. She also works with corporate leaders and high potential executives on a 121 basis.