This blog is about reflections and frankly, I'm fatigued. Well, maybe stressed is more descriptive. 2020 was a difficult year, a frightening year, one of loss and uncertainty. At the end of 2020, we thought we could just write off the year and start fresh with 2021. I don't know about you, but 2021 has pretty much sucked. Yes, we have a vaccine. Yes, we know what to do to stop the spread of an aggressive virus. Yes, we know we need to be kinder, more inclusive and more aware. And yet we are still debating merits of mask wearing and vaccines. "My body, my choice" is a popular phrase. (Of course if you are a pregnant woman in Texas, you are an exception to this phrase.) Armchair "scientists" seem to know more than the actual scientists. Politicians have become experts on disease prevention. And the efforts to address systemic racism tend to be alienating the very majority that truly has the power to make the changes and address the underlying symptoms that are the very foundation of this country. It's just sad and I could go on and on, but why further fatigue and stress out myself and you.
Communities are divided. Families are divided. And guess what?? Holidays are just around the corner! Let's just keep piling on the stress factors!!
So how do we navigate this holiday season with our family and friends? The conventional wisdom is to avoid difficult conversations in the interest of keeping the peace. To support the growing movement of creating change, I'm going to suggest that avoidance is no longer an option. Silence tends to perpetuate individualistic thinking, racism, and exclusive behaviors. Yet, how scary is it to speak up when a family member or friend says or does something that is a sucker punch to your own values? What do you do? First, you have to decide what is right for you. Maybe it is curtailing the amount of time you spend with offensive family members. Maybe it is creating your own traditions without certain family members. Or maybe it is time to speak up in a respectful yet authentic manner. If you are interested in expressing yourself (and perhaps modeling positive behavior), using "I" language is a non-threatening way to express the impact of someone else's words or actions that are offensive and create conflict for you. And if you don't verbally express this, you can instead "think" in terms of "I" language. For example, instead of saying (or thinking), "You are a racist.", try: "I feel angry at you when you call a person of color lazy because it makes you sound ignorant (or "that's not my experience") and would appreciate it if you would keep those comments to yourself". I offer the option of "thinking" in addition to verbally expressing because maybe it is not safe or you and the other party are not ready for a verbal exchange. However, this prepares your own reflexive response that shifts from attacking to impact language.
Avoiding doesn't build bridges and we really could use more building and less blowing up of bridges these days. We make assumptions about others without realizing how much we actually have in common. Taking time to have meaningful dialog and creating space for differences are first steps. Listening for understanding and empathizing with each other helps us to get along and be better together. Yes, it takes effort, a lot of effort. And yes, I know we are already fatigued but this is the type of "workout" that gives us energy, that strengthens relationships and stops us from being divided.
A colleague of mine recently posted about the use of the term "pivot". It's been popular (some may say, overused) during 2020 and into 2021. Pivot is defined as a noun, adjective and verb. As a noun, "a shaft or pin on which something turns". In the spirit of basketball playoffs starting this week, "a basketball player keeps one foot on the ground as he/she screens or pivots to make a basket." As an adjective, that same basketball player "uses the action of pivoting to execute the play." And as a verb, "to provide with, mount on, or attach by a pivot". Our basketball player "successfully pivots by keeping his/her foot grounded on the floor".
For organizations, finding that pivot to keep doors open and employees working has been a challenge. Creativity, risks, support from customers and shareholders have all been elements of a successful pivot. I was working in the US Virgin Islands when the pandemic started. The local distiller, recognizing the impact of the loss of tourism to the islands and a new need, pivoted to selling hand sanitizer. We saw this pivot across the country. Keeping commerce flowing from our homes instead of commuting to the office or adjusting shifts to reduce the number of employees working at the same time, are also examples of pivots organizations made.
Pivoting requires an element of change. Depending on how resilient and prepared your organization is, another pivot may be looked at with dread. As we move forward to more in-person socializing, working, and activities, many people are feeling unsure, scared and nervous. If you have ever tried to create a new habit, you know that it takes about 30 days. Pivoting back to a more socially engaged society after 14 months of creating new habits that are based on not physically being around people is going to take patience, understanding and a strong communication plan to support this next pivot. Everyone connected to your organization -- managers, shareholders, customers, vendors and employers -- are all in a different space regarding their ability to re-enter life after a pandemic.
An effective tool to overcoming concerns and creating space for inclusion is to conduct listening sessions or small focus groups. These can be done initially be taking an anonymous poll to get a pulse on concerns and questions, and then following up with a live session conducted by a competent facilitator to discuss the poll results and engage everyone in a problem-solving and information sharing session. At the end of the day, leaders are faced with meeting the goals of the organization, which includes getting people back to work. Transparency in organizational goals and options as well as open communication will help employees and managers make informed decisions.
If you have a gap in being able to provide this service, call us. That is why we are here. We will work with you to set up and conduct the poll and sessions. We will work to build trust in the process and provide leadership with constructive feedback that will better inform your next pivot.