As we face today’s challenges and uncertainties, we are all experiencing emotions and thoughts that we have seldom, if ever, confronted before.
Life indeed throws challenges our way. And those challenges have varying degrees of uncertainty. The end result is a sort of disorientation that, to most of us, can be downright scary. It’s akin to being on a ship in the middle of a stormy sea, or an airplane experiencing severe turbulence. Few of us have been in such situations and therefore cannot know either the duration or the outcomes that might occur. Consequently, we can become lost in our own thoughts and emotions, filled with recurring worry about the future.
And we can feel alone.
These are the times that each of us needs to take a turn being the calm in the center of the storm. And it is not just the leaders in organizations that can and should do it. It is everyone.
Think about what might be happening to individuals working for companies today. They are worried about their families, their ability to provide for them and to meet the bills that they anticipate mounting. Their savings might be low and their retirement plans, if they have them, declining in value. And no one is absolutely certain about their own companies and what the future looks like. Finally, everywhere they go, they see a 24-hour news cycle that is unprecedented in its reporting about the health challenge confronting us. The solid ground has become shaky beneath everyone’s feet.
Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a conviction.” One can learn from his quote that it is only natural that we all experience fear. It is a protective mechanism that is part of who we are. And yet we can also make the choice of having courage, effectively being both fearful and hopeful at the same time. We can identify and name one – that being fear – and choose to also include the other – the conviction of courage – into our range as human beings.
And we can share that outlook with others in whatever circumstance in which we find ourselves. How do we do it? By first reaching out to the other person.
It can be someone you know on the other side of the country or the grocery clerk who is working overtime to make sure food is available to you and your family. It can be the Admin trying to answer phones in an empty office while everyone is working remotely. And it can even be the COO, who has worked 18-hour days handling the crisis.
A short text or email can be a first step. Just saying “I’m thinking about you,” can be powerful. Or “I’m here if you need to talk.” In face-to-face conversations, a simple, “How are you coping with this situation?” might be an initial question. And it must be said with an intent to really want to know the answer – and then listening, observing and providing space for the other person to reply. Attending to the other person is critical, effectively meeting her or him where they are. In coaching we call that contact or connection and it effectively helps us to join in a mutual and shared reality with that other person.
There are no easy answers to the current crisis looming before us. We cannot provide what we do not know. But we can be there for the others at work and home and those who we just briefly encounter, touching their lives at a time of vulnerability and fear. And we can then join in a mutual reality where courage can be a choice. Sometimes just telling the other person you are there for them can help someone. For all of us, knowing that we are being heard is the most important: Heard, really listened to, and understood.
Within the current health situation and the larger global reality, answers will continue to emerge and solutions will no doubt be put into place. Each of us together will weather this storm – especially if we attend to each other and lend a place of calm in the center of this storm we now face.
We will all take our turns experiencing fear and we will all take turns encouraging others to have courage and hope and continuing to include that in their range.
Each of us is able to do that. And we all must choose to do it.
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches is a former senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry. He experienced the challenges of 9/11 and its aftermath.