Current circumstances mean many people are struggling to mentally and emotionally process, which has a detrimental effect on communication. Turbulent events one after another, no time to catch your breath, just stock phrases like: “Things are crazy right now!” These words give nothing away and can even create misunderstandings. Is it a frenetically busy period at work, traumatic family troubles, or dire consequences from recent extreme weather events (flooding, cyclone, earthquake)?

It’s hard to formulate your ideas without space to process your thoughts and feelings; you can be genuinely lost for words. But when people find it difficult to connect with you, it’s more challenging than ever to get things done! Trouble thinking, feeling and speaking straight make effective collaboration almost impossible.

My interest in communication and human behaviour sparked in childhood when I found myself unable to utter a single sound. Growing up in the North of England, I was surrounded by intense media coverage about the Yorkshire Ripper. His initial attacks were in residential areas, and I vividly remember a noise startling me awake in the middle of the night. I was eight years old. At the foot of my bed stood a dark figure, watching menacingly from the shadows and twisting a stocking between his hands. Terror held me dumbstruck.

Faced with turbulence and overwhelm ever since the pandemic, maybe your people are also squeezing their eyes tight shut, as I did, hoping it’s just a bad dream? The search for the Yorkshire Ripper was one of the largest and most expensive manhunts in British history. West Yorkshire Police drew harsh criticism because they failed to catch Peter Sutcliffe, despite having interviewed him nine times during their five-year investigation.

It’s not just serial killers who successfully hide aspects of their behaviour to avoid detection! What you see is not always what you get. But pressure and stress do have a way of pushing underlying problems into view. Investigative skill lies in spotting clues that together establish patterns, profiles and trends from which we can all learn and progress. Some signs leaders are noticing right now are more frequent occurrences of unsettling people behaviour, eg. mistakes, miscommunications, mix ups. Plus, repercussions are not only more intense, they also reach further afield.

It's true that communication difficulties start with individuals, but they don’t stay there. They seep into every team interaction and start to invade your working culture. When foundational behaviours go off track, they rarely heal without help. Working relationships can be mended, but never by staying silent.