We learned a key lesson about empathy and connection at the beginning of the pandemic. This lesson has been easy to forget in the pressures of 2022. However, this lesson may be the key to success in this environment.
It’s hard to believe two years have passed since the infamous spring of 2020. In some ways, it feels like 2 months. (As I write this, it feels like 2 decades.)
Quarantines and lockdowns have given way to hybrid business models. This season continues to be marked with challenges. Cost increases have led to price increases. Supply-chain issues and labor shortages have caused thousands of unforeseen hassles.
Between 2020 and 2022 it’s like we shifted from “pivot” to “problem-solving on steroids”. In many industries, business has become a 24-hour game of whack-a-mole.
In the eerie silence of April of 2020 as the business world cobbled together home offices and logged into Zoom, we realized that we were in uncharted waters. Afraid of the unknown and concerned that business would evaporate, we picked up the phone and called our clients. We checked on them. We asked how they were doing. We listened.
As stressful as they were, there was something special about these months. We showed genuine empathy. Things got more personal. The unknowns and problems of the moment became an opportunity for a deeper connection.
We got back to work. Sadly, some businesses did not make it through the season. Some survived. Others flourished.
Then the problems began. Salespeople took orders but it became impossible to fulfill them. Banks wrote loans on assets that couldn’t be installed. Car dealers had lots full of vehicles without chips to run the onboard computers. Manufacturers tried to make products but couldn’t get one key ingredient. Once the products were manufactured it was a challenge to get them delivered.
Empathy has given way to exhaustion.
Sometimes we get so focused on solving the problems of business that we forget to care for the people of our business.
I wonder if this is where we are right now?
I recently finished the book Deliberate Discomfort by Jason Van Camp. This book gives a powerful window into leadership in the special forces. Faced with the dynamic environment of a battlefield, these leaders navigate incredible challenges while making decisions that have life and death consequences.
Taking away the life-and-death consequences of war and the battlefield environment of never-ending challenges seems to describe our current business environment.
What struck me in this book was how the leaders interacted with each other. In the pressures of battle, relationships were deepened and trust was built.
In the last chapter of the book, Major Petit demonstrates incredible leadership by prioritizing people over problems. In the pressure of preparing for a deployment, he takes the time to listen intently to his new leader. With dozens of pressing issues and deadlines, he chose to focus on a person.
Major Petit recognized that investing in his people now would eliminate problems in the future. Similarly, investing in relationships with your clients and team members now will eliminate problems in the future.
Right now it feels like there are too many problems in play to spend time on relationships. Choosing people first seems too inefficient for today’s high-pressure environment. The opposite is true. Investing in relationships creates the grace and connection that allows you to work through the problems of today and the ones that will inevitably come tomorrow.
In this challenging time, we have a choice. Given the problems we face on a daily basis, we can go heads-down in the problem solver mode and simply get things done. At the end of the long day, we can go home, try to get some rest, and brace ourselves for tomorrow.
Alternatively, we can recognize that this challenging environment may be around for a while. We can take a deep breath—multiple times a day. We can turn our focus to those around us. We can ask our clients and coworkers how they are doing. We can demonstrate empathy. We can build trust and loyalty.
Since the spring of 2020, people skills have been the currency of business. Yes, we need to know how to get things done. Yes, we need to solve problems. But we can’t forget the people.
Clients are frustrated. Employees are exhausted. Suppliers are stressed.
Work is tough. Personal life is hard too. We cannot forget the pressures of sick family members and grief over those who we have lost. We need to remember the people we work with have the challenges of managing kids in school and aging parents.
In the midst of problem-solving, let’s remember the question from April 2020: “How are you doing?”
Let’s care about people. Let’s connect.
Moments of empathy and connection will not only build trust with clients and teammates, but they will also provide us with a breath of relief in the middle of a stressful environment.
How can you connect today? What question can you ask a client, coworker, or supplier? How can you show empathy? How can you encourage?
These lessons of connection and empathy from the spring of 2020 may be the key to thriving in the chaos of the spring of 2022.