Today’s post comes from long-time friend of Nonprofit Marketing Guide, Tara Collins. I love her plea for patience and grace as we begin meeting up again in person. If you also have tips or thoughts about how we come out of the events of the past 13+ months, we would love to share them with our readers! Just send an email to kristina [at] nonprofitmarketingguide.com.
Guest Post by Tara Collins
Left alone with my thoughts, I see this strict, year-long hiatus from the civilized world has had its benefits. This people-less space removed superficial interactions, opening up time for deeper relationships. It brought me closer to my husband, reconnecting me with home time (and alone time). I’ve negotiated a truce with my father’s aging and bridged him to health while waiting for a vaccine. No longer fast to accepting that lunch invite, I’m more cautious about with whom I engage, all in the name of safety. Yes, the pandemic, with all its horrors, has given me pause.
However, a year in, self-imposed quarantine robbed me of independence, peace of mind, and freedom. After five decades of mastering the art of talk, I have lost my gift for conversation. Stumbling through pre-pubescent shyness and stutter, both land me in the gawky, abrupt silent muck of not knowing what to say. The Awkward Pause seems an insurmountable uncomfortability. Searching for the next conversation thread, I fear I’ll come up short, at a loss for words, spoken and shared. I dread re-entry to public space.
Of course, worse than saying nothing is the misstep of filling the void with something that makes absolutely no sense. Pre-covid, we called this “Conference Mouth.” This phenomenon usually appears on Day 4 of a week-long, hand-shaking, chit-chat-laden convention (pre-covid).
Early on, conference small talk and entry-level banter prevail. Conversation is easy with people you didn’t know and probably wouldn’t see again for a while. I learned early on to never use names in the elevator and to say nothing while traveling through the lobby. Elevator speak, if any, was confined to easy pleasantries: “Love the dress. That’s a great color on you.” and “Were you able to break away to do something nice for yourself this week?” Commonality conversation circled around pets, kids, eldercare, and in-laws. From there, we’d venture into work, passions, past-times, and PG-rated jokes. Interaction was fun, light, uplifting; rarely did politics, religion, or taxes enter the mix. Adept at introducing outsiders to a group of unknowns, I could step in as conversation doula coaching past awkwardness, making connections, delivering relationships.
Inevitably, on Day 4 (or Day 3 if you spent late nights pre-convention and on Day 1 and 2), Conference Mouth emerged in all its vocal glory. To the simple exchange “Good Morning” my reply went sideways: “Not bad, how about you?” “Yeah, that was a doozie.” “Ugh, when will this be over?” A muzzled Conference Mouth often spiraled me into a horrified Mumble, Reversed Words Hell, and the late night “Adieu” upon leaving the elevator for the breakfast buffet. Awkward. Messy. Silly. All this a result of too much talking.
So here I am, faced with the opposite – my dilemma of too little talking — contemplating the opening of the world, of concerts, business meet-ups, conventions, and conferences. I’ve misplaced my social skills, gift of witty gab, and ease with strangers. I won’t have my off-screen notes to sly-eye as we talk. I’m terrified of what’s about to come out of my mouth.
I’m hoping we can make a pact.
Can we agree, when we meet again (or for the first time) to be patient? gracious? forgiving of those verbal slips that make no sense?
Can we agree that the Awkward Pause, however endless that quiet seems, is best for us both in that moment?
Can we support each other in avoiding the inevitable?
Can we forgive that feared, re-entry faux pas about to occur, that comment that sends one of us scurrying, red-faced and mortified, into a coffee-toting colleague just off the elevator?
Isolation wasn’t so bad, was it? Yes, it was.
So, can we agree to smile?
Can we agree to the Pandemic Pause?
I can wait for your response.
Tara Collins is a Jill-of-all-Trades, Master-of-Some, in nonprofit communications, writing, philanthropy, project management, and marketing. Hard-won experience and battle scars demonstrate her passion for relationship building and storytelling. She enjoys hiking the Catskills and scuba diving with her husband, occasional cat herding, an elusive meditation practice, and jewelry beading. She frequently revels in good laugh at her own expense.