Conflict in a time of Coronavirus: Managing your own emotions

“Secure your own oxygen mask first, before helping others.”

This phrase started out as a straight-forward instruction to airplane passengers and has become a cliché of self-care. And despite being a cliché, it is pretty good advice. If you don’t look after yourself, you won’t have the capacity to look after others.

A large part of self-care during these very uncertain times is managing one’s own emotions and coping with the generalized anxiety that seems to hover in the air. People are fearful about their health, the health of their loved ones, and the economic fallout from the pandemic. While this is all understandable, it doesn’t make the negative emotion any easier to manage. At the same time, we’re getting used to many new realities: staying at home, perhaps looking after children who miss their routines and their friends, gyms, shops, and places of worship closed. We’re both in closer proximity with some people and separated farther from others.

A lot of people are on edge. Managing one’s own emotions is crucial. Conflicts can be sparked by trivial matters. It is important not the allow small disagreements to escalate.

A number of philosophical and religious traditions from around the world stress the importance of our attitude to events. The tradition I’m most familiar with is Stoicism. To the Stoics, the key to happiness is to have the right mindset. What this means now is to recognize that while many people are under extreme stress, you have power over your own thoughts and attitudes. You can care for others without taking on their anxiety. You can focus on what is going well in your own life and on doing what you can to improve things in the moment.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Being honest about your fears will help you keep them in perspective. Have at least one person in your life you can be honest with.
  2. You also need one person in your life whom you can vent to about daily annoyances. (If possible, this should not be someone you live with.) But keep it brief. Limit a “gripe session” to five minutes. Going on and on isn’t good for you, or for the person who has to listen to you.
  3. One sure way to get out of your own head is to ask yourself what you can do for others. Remember to reciprocate, and give your “venting partner” an opportunity to share his or her anxieties with you. (Again, limit this to 5 minutes or so.)

Taking the time and effort to manage your own emotions in a stressful time is one of the most effective ways to practice self-care and ensure that you have the emotional capacity to care for those around you.

About the image: Royal Australian Air Force Leading Aircraftswoman gives a safety brief to passengers. Source: photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch, Flickr

Conflict in a time of Coronavirus: Bullying in the virtual workplace

In the course of a recent workplace intervention, one of the employees I interviewed described a pattern of harassment via text message. While this woman was on vacation, one of her co-workers sent her a stream of angry messages berating her for (allegedly) leaving her files in a mess and letting everybody down.

Apparently thousands of miles isn’t far enough to eliminate workplace harassment.

Based on my experience there will be many people who are relieved to work at home and avoid having to face a feared supervisor or dreaded colleague in person. (This is one “silver lining” in these difficult times.)  At the same time, I also know that workplace bullying will continue in new forms, and that more than ever, leaders must insist on respectful behaviour.

Managers have to observe a delicate balance. On the one hand, everyone is under stress and we are all capable of less-than-gracious behaviour. Being forgiving in these trying circumstances is humane. At the same time I have been in too many organizations where poor behaviour is never addressed. The cost – in terms of morale, lowered productivity, and human emotion – is enormous. Leaders need to set clear boundaries and expectations around acceptable behaviour.

Here is what managers can do to ensure open dialogue and respectful behaviour during virtual meetings:

  1. Tone at the top is more important than ever. Participants will take their cues regarding behaviour from the leader. So set a good example.
  1. Begin each meeting with a quick “check in” to ask people how they are doing. This is more important than ever as employees are likely to be under a great deal of stress. A check-in gives people permission to speak personally, but doesn’t oblige them to. (Sometimes clients ask me – doesn’t this take up valuable time? On the contrary, my experience is that check-ins are a good use of time because they help everyone to focus. People will often mention something that has been preoccupying them and saying it out loud to others allows them to let go of it.)
  1. As the leader, you should start the check-in. How you answer will set the tone for how others respond.
  1. If you notice disrespectful behaviour during a video meeting – snide remarks, audible sighs, eye-rolling, or a sarcastic tone – you need to address it. However do this privately, in a separate call or video meeting. Public shaming – even of individuals who may “deserve” it – is not good for workplace culture.
  1. When addressing disrespectful behaviour, be matter-of-fact and name the behaviour that you found disrespectful. You can say something like, “You seemed on edge during the meeting. I noticed that you rolled your eyes and sighed deeply when Sally was sharing her ideas. Whether you meant it or not, your actions came over as disrespectful.  Please share your perspective in a way that doesn’t involve…”
  1. End the meeting with a “check out.” Depending on your workplace culture and the type of organization, you might ask participants to share something that they learned, something they appreciate about a co-worker, or one action they will take based on the meeting. Again, the leader should go first and how he/she speaks will set the tone for the others.

Stay tuned for a future post on maintaining a positive culture when you’re back to interacting in person.

About the image: Excluded from the Group. Source: Stuart Miles, StockVault