Mindtools.com published an article entitled “Coping with Change, Facing Fear and the New Normal.” Clearly, what we have all undergone this past year plus – a global pandemic – the article indicates, is one of “the hardest changes to understand and adjust to . . . (because it is) unexpected and out of our control . . .”
In the workplace, the changes were dramatic: many lost jobs, while those who retained theirs did so from afar. Technology saved many, allowing for virtual meetings and gatherings.
Consider this: as many reenter the workplace, we will once again experience change. And, although “expected” change, many of us will nonetheless experience what Mindtools depicts as the four “stages of reacting to change:
- shock and disorientation;
- anger and other emotional responses;
- coming to terms with the ‘new normal’; and,
- acceptance and moving forward.”
As leaders and team members, how can we reduce the level of anxiety brought on by the first three reactions to change, and move us smoothly into “acceptance and moving forward?” Key to our success in this transition will be communication: how we communicate with others, how others communicate with us, and communication ground rules our teams establish.
Communication How To’s for Reentering the Workplace:
- Listen More, Talk Less: Doubtless, all have Covid-related stories to tell, and some will have lost relatives or friends to the disease. It will be important to listen to others first, before volunteering a story, especially if you are in a leadership role. A great ground rule here: leaders speak last.
- Be Empathetic; Show Concern for Others: Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”(Oxford American College Dictionary); “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present . . .” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary); and, “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” (Dictionary.com). The common thread is being sensitive to others’ feelings; I would add that it’s imperative to be sincere and authentic. Empathy is not something that can be easily faked. If having a tough day and someone wants to talk, better to reschedule to a time when empathy flows freely.
- Apologize When You Goof: It’s not if we make mistakes; rather, how we handle them. Own it, apologize and move on. As to whether the other person will accept the apology and move on is up to him or her; nonetheless, it doesn’t absolve the person who made the mistake from owning it, apologizing and moving forward. NOTE: providing a reason for the conduct for which one is apologizing sounds like an excuse, just like a “but,” after giving a piece of positive feedback – it negates it all. A simple “I’m sorry,” will do.
Putting the How to’s into Action — A Story:
Up-and-comer Megan Manager works in a fast-paced high-end jewelry store. One of her employees, Elyssa, tested positive for Covid on December 23rd. Megan had shared a snack with Elyssa, and became so stressed out, she couldn’t concentrate on her work. Megan wanted to take the 24th off to test since she was scheduled to go to a huge family celebration on Christmas Day – one of the few days the store was closed each year. Beth Boss said to her “are you nuts? That’s Christmas Eve, one of our busiest days of the year. If you fail to show up tomorrow, you will be terminated.” Megan came in on the 24th, could barely stay focused and had a terrible stomachache.
When Megan’s family discovered there would be a possible exposure to Covid, they canceled the event and decided to defer the gathering until she was cleared of Covid and could attend. On Christmas day, Megan was alone in her apartment, tearful and feeling alone and isolated. On December 26th, and to the cost of nearly $200.00, she took a Covid fast test, found out she was negative, and the family gathered. When she returned to work on December 27th, Beth Boss walked by her and said nothing. Megan decided she no longer wanted to work for an organization that cared so little for its employees and began looking for other employment.
How could this story have turned out differently? How could our tips have turned it around, especially because Megan Manager really did need to show up to work on the 24th?
- Listen More, Talk Less: When Megan asked Beth whether she could have taken the 24th off to test for Covid, Beth could have invested five minutes in a conversation. “Megan, I bet it was disconcerting to learn about Elyssa’s positive test. Tell me about it?” After listening, Beth could have said “wow, I didn’t know how much it’s impacting your ability to stay focused. Let’s check online for the closest testing spot, and I’ll let you take an early lunch and get tested now.”
- Be Empathetic; Show Concern for Others: In this five-minute conversation, Beth could have said, “Megan, I’m really sorry this is so distressing, and I really do need you to come in tomorrow. Let’s think of a way we can ease some of your concerns and also get you to come in.” After a discussion, it was agreed that Megan could either leave early on the 23rd or come in late on the 24th to take a rapid test. If positive, Megan would go home; if negative, she would work on the 24th.
Another instance in this story that Beth could have shown her sympathy was the day Megan returned from the rapid test (if allowed to leave work and go), or the first day back on the job. Rather than walk by her without a word, Beth could have said “Hi Megan. I’ve been thinking about you. How’s it going? I hope our work schedule didn’t cause you too much stress, and I am so glad you were here. It was an insane day, and your good work really made it easier for all of us. Were you able to reschedule your holiday celebration?” That simple act of caring could have led to Megan staying with the company,
- Apologize When You Goof: Assuming Beth did indeed “shoot from the lip” and state: “are you nuts? That’s Christmas Eve, one of our busiest days of the year. If you fail to show up tomorrow, you will be terminated.” She could have said – either that day, or later (when she had time to cool her jets): “Megan, I am so sorry I spouted off. I apologize.”
- Listen More, Talk Less: A great ground rule here: leaders speak last.
- Be Empathetic; Show Concern for Others: Empathy is not something that can be easily faked. If having a tough day and someone wants to talk, better to reschedule to a time when empathy flows freely.
- Apologize When You Goof: It’s not if we make mistakes; rather, how we handle them. Own it, apologize and move on. A simple “I’m sorry,” will do.
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