Over the past few months, entire countries have shut down, their typically teeming streets empty. In the United States, more than 85,000 people have died, and states remain in various stages of lockdown. We are a world in a coronavirus crisis.
Whenever there’s a crisis, my wife, Margie, likes to ask an interesting question: “What’s good about this?” In other words, what do the current circumstances offer that aren’t available during times of business as usual?
In normal times, people lack the sense of urgency needed to implement change. But during a crisis, people find the will to commit to needed efforts. Suddenly, even technophobes are honing their computer skills. There’s an uptick in online training and businesses are rushing to engage customers virtually to drive online sales.
This crisis reminds me of my childhood during World War II, when factories retooled to help the war effort. Today, we see companies retooling to adapt to the pandemic: Breweries are making hand sanitizers, hoodie manufacturers are making face masks, and Ford and 3M have teamed up with GE Healthcare to make thousands of ventilators.
There’s another opportunity this crisis brings that perhaps isn’t so obvious: the chance to deepen relationships. That might sound counterintuitive. How do you strengthen personal connections, especially while companies are creating distance through telecommuting, video meetings and online training?
The answer is that, whether virtually or in person, the skills required to connect with others remain the same. In our book, “Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships,” Cynthia Olmstead, Martha Lawrence and I discuss six key strategies for connectedness that you can put into practice today.
1. Show interest in others. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own concerns, especially in times of crisis. Yet turning your attention to others — observing their concerns and feelings — can be as helpful to you as it is to them. There’s joy in forgetting about yourself.
2. Be a good listener. Listening is more than waiting for the other person to stop talking. After the person speaks, reflect back on what you hear. If you are a leader, what can you do to make sure that people are heard in your organization? For example, our company made coaching available to all employees during the crisis.
3. Show empathy. Being sensitive to others’ feelings opens the door to connection. Don’t minimize people’s feelings or change the subject. Let others know you feel their pain. Even when you must deliver less-than-good news, treat people as you would wish to be treated.
4. Praise people’s efforts. Catch people doing things right! When you recognize others with praise, you let them know that you’re on their side, rooting for them. Make sure your praise is sincere. If it’s appropriate, make your praise public.
5. Share about yourself. When you open up about yourself, you show that you are vulnerable, and that leads to connectedness. Working from home during the shutdown, people have posted photos of their pets and kids on our company’s private Facebook page. This has led to whole new levels of connection among our people.
6. Ask for input. No one of us is as smart as all of us! When you solicit others’ good ideas, you not only build connections, you also get smarter. Seek opinions from a variety of sources, paying attention to those with whom you might not ordinarily agree. The broader your base, the more connected you’ll be.
As Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Now is the time to move closer rather than farther from others — spiritually if not physically. Let the pandemic of 2020 be an opportunity to strengthen your connectedness with your people, your customers, your stakeholders — and, of course, your family and loved ones.