How to improve your relationships during a global pandemic

31 July 2020 | Applicable law: Hong Kong

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Communication is key to preventing and resolving conflicts. As a long-time lawyer specialising in family law and dispute resolution, this is something I always tell my clients. And as a new father to a baby boy, this is something I also practice at home to ensure strong communication between my wife and me.

However, COVID-19 has completely upturned how we communicate both at work and at home, causing me to rethink my own communication best practices. With the outbreak, people were suddenly confined to their homes, working remotely, and living in much closer quarters with family members 24/7. With so many high-tension factors in place, it was no surprise to hear anecdotally and professionally about an uptick in family quarrels.

But in the last few months, I’ve learned some important lessons on how to further improve my communication skills at home and at work to prevent and resolve these types of quarrels, so I wanted to share them with you today in hopes that these three simple tips will be helpful to you as well:

Be patient and considerate: everyone is going through a challenging time

It’s easy to get frustrated with your family members when you are all confined at home. Things that would typically be small issues, like leaving out a dirty mug, are suddenly amplified when spending significantly more time with each other.

However, it’s important to keep calm and not let petty grievances cause disproportionately large arguments. Everyone in the household is already on edge with huge changes in work or school life, upset about not being able to see friends, and feeling overwhelming worry about the health crisis. Instead of jumping hot-headed into an argument, consider that everyone is going through a difficult time, and calmly and respectfully communicate with your family members.

Communicate with your partner ahead of time instead of expecting them to anticipate your needs

The coronavirus outbreak has caused an unprecedented overlap of professional and personal environments, forcing married couples to both try working remotely while also taking on additional childcare duties. It’s likely that before quarantine, you had never spent the entire working day with your spouse, and this new high-stress environment can easily become a hotbed for disagreements.

In this case, communication is key in preventing any potential arguments. I encourage you to let your spouse know in advance about aspects in your schedule where you’d appreciate their special consideration. For example, you might have a conference call for which you need privacy and quiet. Or perhaps your spouse has an important upcoming deadline, and would appreciate you taking on more childcare responsibilities to help ease their workload.

No matter how long you and your spouse have been married, you are not mind readers, so you still need to communicate with each other rather than expecting that you’ll anticipate each other’s needs!

Don’t underestimate the small gestures to show your loved ones you care

I’m an advocate for mental health and wellness, and understand that the many additional stress points 2020 has brought can cause increased anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s so important to continue showing your family and colleagues you care, even just with small gestures that only take a few minutes from your day.

You can simply ask your spouse or child how they are feeling, and then actively listen to learn about anything they are struggling with. This will help open lines of communication for them to tell you about issues they may be facing at work or school, and strengthen bonds of trust and partnership.

You can send a quick email to your colleagues thanking them for their hard work. In the age of remote working, it’s easy for office staff to feel unseen or unappreciated, so reaffirming their contribution to the team, especially when you may not have seen them face-to-face for an extended period of time, is invaluable.

Final reflections

Even now in Hong Kong, where social distancing regulations have been mostly relaxed, I still apply these learnings to my everyday encounters. I remain patient and empathetic rather than jumping into an argument. I ensure that my wife and I communicate clearly ahead of time to agree on work and childcare responsibilities. I take a few minutes out of my day to give people in my life positive affirmations and remind them that I care. I understand that 2020 has been a challenging year for many people, to say the least, and I sincerely hope that these three simple tips are useful for you in your everyday life as well.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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