I am learning a lot these days. I bet you are too.

Living in the time of COVID-19, circumstances of social distancing and self-quarantine suggests that those things that were was once normal may be a thing of the past. Our interactions with family and friends have changed. The way we are exposed to the arts and media has changed. The way we see the world outside our front door has changed.

In many ways, it comes down to issues of communication. We find new ways to work and socialize under new norms, because we have to. We find new ways to stay connected to those activities and experiences that are important and valuable to us.

This means we all have to work a little harder. We have to use platforms that have been available to us in new ways. Use of Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, Teams, Yammer and Slack have all been skyrocketing in the last few weeks as they have become the very connective tissue of our lives, work and relationships.

It’s like we have all been shoved into a big virtual room, and we are all talking at once. We are all talking, but are we listening?

This weekend, I attended a Shabbat service on Zoom, led by my niece Libby Fisher, a fourth year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College – Institute of Religion. The future Rabbi Fisher was supposed to be leading Shabbat worship for us in a sanctuary, but due to coronavirus concerns, we attended the Shabbat service virtually on Zoom instead, safe at home.

In addition to leading us in worship, Libby also taught us through her sermon, and she captured the communications opportunities and challenges of this moment perfectly by quoting playwright George Bernard Shaw.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

I love this quote, because it was said long before there was ever any suggestion of the internet, social networking or the need to connect with each other only on-line, and yet it speaks to challenges we are facing right now with precision and perfection.

I love this quote because it acknowledges the fact that those things we think of as being communication usually don’t succeed in communicating at all.

I love this quote, because we are all so used to pushing information out, with no real awareness of the extent to which people have actually taken the time to read and absorb what we have shared. The quote acknowledges that we tell people things more than we ask people things. We talk more than we listen, and this is a practice we collectively need to change.

Statistics show that simply including a question mark at the end of a post, any post, will result in much higher engagement rates and many more replies. Actually, your post doesn’t even have to be a question at all! As long as there is a question mark there at the end, the replies, statistically, will increase.

Why (ironically and purposefully)…I ask, is a question mark so meaningful?

A question mark leaves the door open for response and feedback. A question mark asks for participation. A question mark is a statement in an of itself looking for information, looking for an answer. A question mark suggests vulnerability by stating loud and clear that you don’t have the answer. You need the help of others.

And there are lots of opportunities to be vulnerable. Lots of questions to ask. Lots of ways to engage with others. Whether you are posting for work, or just for your personal life, the questions are much the same.

If you simply post about how you feel, communication has not taken place. Instead, ask people how they are. Include a question mark.

If you simply boast about your accomplishments, communication has not taken place. Instead, ask people about what they are doing, and if there are opportunities for you to contribute. Include a question mark.

You get the idea. Use the question mark to welcome people in, and provide an engagement opportunity with you. And then keep in going. Do what you can to ensure that communication has actually taken place.

By following up with the answer provided, by continuing the conversation, the relationship will become stronger as the conversation continues.

The closed front doors of our homes does not need to mean we can no longer communicate. We can, but we need to do so with open ears, open hearts, and a spirit of generosity and vulnerability.

So. What do you think?

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