It’s pretty ironic that this week’s writing prompt focuses on building relationships as we are all practicing self-quarantine and social distancing. But in these stressful times, relationships become of vital importance.
I’ve heard that you learned who a person really is during traumatic experience. But I would also say that a pandemic is an opportunity to evaluate our relationships. Who are the people you were worried about? Who is the person you go to for support? Where do you seek information?
As a relatively new faculty member (at least new to being full-time… and considering I’ve been away from GCC for 5 years), I feel like this year has been a rebuilding year. I’m becoming reacquainted with my former colleagues, some of whom are my former professors. I’ve also developed new relationships; as a residential faculty member, I’m exposed to groups and committees that I was not a part of as an adjunct or an OYO faculty member.
Building relationships requires exposure. You have to put yourself out there, which can sometimes be an awkward, uncomfortable, and vulnerable experience. I consider myself to be an extroverted introvert. I definitely identify more as an introvert; I recharge my batteries with alone time spent reading or writing or taking a walk. Large groups and parties tend to make me anxious. People are often shocked to hear this. “But you teach Communication!” “But you do speech and debate!”
As an introvert in a very extroverted field, I’ve learned to survive in an extrovert world. I can turn it on as needed. When I’m in the classroom, I have to tap in to my extroverted act: energized, excited to be around people, eager to participate in a group. But it has taken a long time to be able to perfect the art of acting like an extrovert while still feeling like an introvert. Never is this more true than when I have a choice of whether or not to engage socially. The introvert in me says (politely) no, thank you. But the extrovert craves connections with others and sometimes pushes my introvert self into the socialization deep end.
So here are a few tips that I try to follow to push myself out of my comfort zone and to build or improve relationships with others:
1. Don’t hunker down in your own office. It is so easy to get caught up in grading or answering emails or any of the other many administrative duties required of us as faculty members. On very busy days, I have been known to eat lunch hovering over my keyboard or to microwave some thing to eat as I walk to another building on campus.
I try to schedule at least one lunch per week in the shared break room where I can socialize with colleagues and take a few minutes to disengage from technology and my teacher brain. I also do my best to attend any department celebrations: potlucks, birthdays, etc. We are all busy with our own teaching schedules (not to mention our personal lives), but taking even a little bit of time shows people that you care about them.
2. Do the wedding rounds. Weddings are a great example of social celebrations… as well as social obligations. If you are the person getting married, all of the people who show up to your wedding are there for you, or for your partner, but considering that it’s a wedding they are there for both of you. Your wedding guests want to have an opportunity to interact with you and to celebrate this special day with you. After a ceremony and many rounds of pictures, the opportunity for interaction usually occurs at the reception. The happy couple, either individually or solo, should walk around to each table to greet guests and share a few moments with the people they love best.
I have employed the idea of the wedding rounds in many of my jobs. I used to work as the director of resident relations at a luxury retirement village. (I am so thankful to not be in that industry right now as so many elderly people are at the highest risk of death from Coronavirus.) I used to make the rounds on a regular basis to check in with various groups: the woodworking club, the quilting bee, people who work on jigsaw puzzles, the coffee crew, etc.
I use the wedding rounds even in my current position. As I’m walking to fill up my coffee cup, I try to stop and say hello to co-workers in their offices, if they don’t seem too busy or stressed. If I have a few minutes between classes, I walk to my coworkers’ offices to check in and say hello.
On Valentine’s Day, I bought a package of children’s Valentines Day cards, inserted a fun size package of Skittles into each one, and delivered them to my coworkers’ offices… Or at the very least their office doors. It probablt took 20 minutes of time total: to write names on each card, add candy, and deliver, but I got such positive feedback from the recipients! It was worth the effort.
3. Just a little note. But you don’t have to wait for the next overly-commercialized holiday to show you care! Another way to build connections is just to write a little note. Sometimes this means sending someone an email or a text message.
For example, a colleague mentioned starting a chpater of the Communication Honor Society Lambda Chi Eta for students, which sounded like a great idea! So I told my classes about the opportunity, asked students to email me if they were interested, and forwarded the interest emails to my colleague. It only took a matter of minutes to announce it in class and to click forward, but it showed that I cared about something my colleague is doing.
Also, I am a huge fan of handwritten notes. I keep a box of blank thank you cards in my desk drawer at all times. (Nerd alert!) I use it frequently. When a colleague does something kind or thoughtful for me, I might write a thank you note. When the college president invited all of the FYRE faculty to lunch, I wrote her a thank you note.
I am totally aware that this is somewhat of an antiquated practice. (I have been mocked for it.) Perhaps this is a holdover from being raised by my southern grandmother. But being a little overly formal for me is a worthy compromise as most people seemed delighted to receive a hand written note.
4. Pandemic outreach. All of these ideas would have seemed perfectly normal and sane (well, unless you hate notecards) had I posted this two weeks ago. In our current global health crisis, with schools shut down and online communication as our primary, maybe even sole, mode of communication, how we build relationships must also change.
Reach out to your colleagues. If not for you, then for them. Check on people! Ask how they’re doing. And, importantly, listen to their answers. Respond appropriately using emotional intelligence cues. In harsh times as we deal with stress and anxiety and the general fear of the unknown, we need connections more than ever.
This is crucial, because you may have to decide who you want to join your team should the pandemic get out of hand and become a zombie apocalypse.
Until then, stay safe. Stay sane. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. And, in the spirit of building relationships, take care of others as well.