One of the toughest things that anyone can do is starting something new or stopping something old.
You and your team are about to do both. Leaders need to pay special attention to this important time as we all begin going back to our offices more regularly. Empathy will be key to your success.
COVID-19 accelerated people leaving behind things the way they were and embracing the new way, which led to them developing new habits. Now people are being asked to abandon this new way and let go quickly. That manifests in disruption and vulnerability with people having already adapted and being forced to adapt once again.
It’s these types of moments where leaders need to be sensitive to what people are going through. Understanding how employees are feeling at this time is critical to accelerating the organization’s reintegration. People have been impacted by this pandemic in varying scope and levels of intensity, and every conversation is unique.
Here are five considerations as you work with your team about how to create your new normal:
Look for meaning. Consider why someone is sharing specific details with you about their situation, but don’t rush to solve the issue right then and there – just listen. Silence is your friend. Don’t interrupt, but ask questions for clarification when necessary, “What do you mean by that?” “Tell me more,” or a simple nod, will allow you to relate to the situation at a deeper level.
Read between the lines. Stay in the moment and focus on what you hear and what you see. The unspoken parts of communication can offer relevant clues. What emotions are you observing? What expressions and gestures are reinforcing the feeling? Are the spoken and unspoken communications in harmony? All of those details are important to pick up on.
Seek the proper context. After allowing for the meaning and feelings to emerge, it is important to get some specifics and demonstrate curiosity. When, how and where did something happen? Gather the facts, make your assumptions explicit and seek clarification. How widespread is this issue? Is this person representing the views of others or is this their own point of view? Paraphrase your understanding of the message and let the person react to it. Never walk away without this validation.
Assess the consequences. Are there unintended consequences or irreversible implications that may emerge? As you seek empathy, be mindful of your own emotions. Are you genuinely interested in how others feel? Are you in tune with how they feel? How do you know? Are you mindful of how their emotions are influencing you?
Don’t watch the clock. When people ask if you have a minute, consider the intensity of the request and try not to postpone the conversation. They may change their minds and not tell you. Is this a priority that requires immediate action or attention? Assess the risk of inaction or postponement. Recognizing the time sensitivity with respect to the request is an opportunity to take action and our options should be to respond with compassion and comfort.
Leaders need to draw upon deep empathy and take the time to work through these issues with their teams in order to make the back-to-office transition successful.
A similar article also appeared in Smith Brain Trust.