While delivering virtual consults to clients last week, I was struck by the frequent mention of this work team dynamic:
“This team normally gets along well and functions productively. Since the onset of the pandemic they have gradually become frustrated with each other, fragmented, and are not communicating well. It seems to stem from the fact that people deal with this stress so differently. Some want to talk about it all the time and some do not want to talk about it at all. Feelings have been hurt and now they avoid communicating altogether.”
This problem is not unique to COVID-19. Marriages, families, work teams, and other groups are often strained by this dynamic during highly stressful, emotional events such as grief following the loss of a loved one or some other traumatic event. What is uniquely stressful about COVID-19 stress is that it is exacerbated by its duration and its unknown quality.
Teams that function well amidst high stress exhibit the four dimensions of Emotional Intelligence:
- Am I aware of my own tendencies?
- When stressed, do I tend to process verbally and find relief from talking about what is bothering me or do I prefer to re-focus myself upon tasks?
- Do I benefit from expressing emotions or is that hard for me?
- Is my fear triggered when those around me express their fears?
- We all have blind-spots. How do people experience me?
2. Self management
- Based upon my self-awareness (and the other dimensions of Emotional Intelligence), am I able to moderate my behavior in ways that are most helpful to me and those around me?
- Can I talk, remain silent, express emotions, listen attentively, set boundaries, and focus on tasks in productive ways even though they may not be my natural tendency?
- Can I “coach” myself?
3. Social awareness
- Do I read the people and situations around me accurately?
- If I am expressing strong emotions, what cues am I receiving from the other person regarding its impact upon them?
- Do I pick up indicators that someone really needs to talk or wishes to be left alone?
- Can I read nonverbals?
- Do I know when to stop?
4. Relationship management
- When aware of my tendencies and the needs of those around me, can I communicate with them in a way that navigates toward community?
- Can I participate in discussion that balances human caring and work productivity?
We all need to acknowledge this unprecedented situation and the potentially divisive conditions it creates. Sometimes it really helps to apologize in advance:
“None of us have been through this before. I know I am uncertain about how to handle it as a person and as part of a team. I wish to say that I am sorry if I do or say something that bothers you. Please be really direct in asking for what you want from me and letting me know if I am not being helpful. Together we’ll get through this.”
Bob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director for the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities.
Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series. Mr. VandePol can be contacted at 616.258.7549 or firstname.lastname@example.org