“It’s so dark”—Communicating in the age of Covid-19

Communicating in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic is not making lemonade out of lemons. It’s more like making lemonade out of lemons that have been left in the back of someone’s pickup truck. In 90-degree heat. For three months.

If you’re not struggling with a loved one alone in the ICU, or the unexpected loss of your income, or four-year-old twins suddenly cut off from the outside world—then yes, you might be able to see a “bright side” in all of this.

But if you are struggling with any of those things—and Lord knows that’s only a partial list—then hearing some company yammer on about the bright side is not going to give you the warm fuzzies. It’s going to make you want to throw something. Preferably straight at the CEO’s head.

If that’s the tack you want to take, you’d be better off keeping quiet.

“It’s so dark”

person shining flashlight at the heavensI wrote a post-Covid-19 piece for one of my clients recently. They had a story to tell about some positives that might emerge from the rubble of the world as we know it. But my first paragraph acknowledged the damage that’s been done to people’s lives as well as to the business world.

The client returned the draft with a note: “This opening is so dark. Can’t we delete?”

Um…no.

You don’t have to tell people that the pandemic has happened—and please, please don’t talk about “these unprecedented times.” We know.

But you must acknowledge that people have endured a range of unpleasant things—from mild (disruption of their schedules) to catastrophic (deaths of family members and friends). If you want to speak to them, you must acknowledge that before you can say anything else.

To put it on a more human level: if your spouse’s sibling died suddenly, you wouldn’t come home from work and say, “So, what’s for dinner?” If a coworker’s child was hospitalized, you wouldn’t lead with, “When am I going to see that PowerPoint?”

Of course you wouldn’t (at least I hope you wouldn’t!)—because those would be in-person interactions. Your natural humanity kicks in when you have to look in someone’s eyes.

When you’re writing—whether it’s a company-wide email or a LinkedIn post or an op-ed in your local newspaper—it’s easy to forget that you’re not just writing for “readers.” You’re writing for people.

If times are dark, acknowledge that. And then flip on your verbal flashlight and show them the path out.