I was driving to my first appointment with a new therapist. Even under normal circumstances, that’s not a comfortable experience. And today certainly wasn’t normal.
It was March 19, and the governor of Maryland had just closed non-essential businesses. Thankfully, therapists were considered essential. Still, there were so few cars out that I felt guilty just being on the roads.
As I walked up to the entrance, I saw a sign on the door of the office with protocols regarding the pandemic. In that brief message, the therapist set clearly defined expectations. When I walked in, reality matched those expectations to a tee. I knew exactly what to do and what not to do to ensure everyone’s safety, mine included.
Sitting across the room from my new therapist, I was surprised at my willingness to open my heart and share. Remember, I had just met this woman… we were at the start of a pandemic, and I didn’t even know all of what was going on inside of me.
In The Face Of Uncertainty, Defensiveness Is Normal
As we finished up our session, she mentioned that the next one may need to be on Zoom.
“I’m not interested in Zoom,” I said reflexively. I simply couldn’t imagine being vulnerable in a virtual setting.
Less than a week later, her business was forced to go online, and I had to make a decision: stop therapy, or try a virtual session. I opted to give it a try.
I felt safe with her.
Setting Expectations Creates Psychological Safety
At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that the sign she put on the door—along with everyone’s adherence to the rules—created such a strong sense of safety for me, but it did.
I trusted that her actions, words, and behaviors would be well-thought-out, and that she had my safety in mind.
Make Safety Your Number One Priority
Just a few days ago, a leader—I’ll call her Rachel—shared a message with me that she’d gotten from her CEO: “We will not be a social experiment,” he said. “We are doing just fine working remotely for now. When we know it is safe to return to the office, we will.”
Like my new therapist, this CEO made safety his most important concern. As a result, trust rippled through the organization upon sending his message. Rachel told me her team has been highly focused and productive ever since.
Simple Ideas For Not So Simple Times
As you’re thinking about bringing your team back together, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
- Know the facts. Use reputable sources to learn about the current situation with the virus. Share that knowledge as clearly as you can. (If you’re a business owner, consider sharing it right on your front door.) Then create space for an open dialogue, so your team can respond with their concerns and ideas, and know they’re being heard.
The CDC recently published a tool to help employers decide whether or not they are ready to reopen the workplace.
- Communicate what you know—and what you don’t—every day. In the absence of information, our brains are wired to create negative stories. By communicating on a daily basis, you help your team reduce negative thinking. To make sure you’re communicating clearly, ask your team what they heard you say. And if there’s no new information to offer, keep things light with a funny story or video.
- Create an imperfect plan. No plan is perfect, so make sure yours can change according to new best practices. When it does change, let your team know, like my therapist, who warned me that we might have to switch to Zoom. That gave me the time I needed to psychologically prepare and get comfortable with the idea. And, most importantly, be an example of the plan. Your team, customers, and stakeholders might read it, but ultimately they’re going to follow your lead. Show them how to engage with each other through the clarity of your example.
I’ve seen these strategies work for my therapist and for teams across the country. As you begin venturing into reuniting your team, I would love to hear the strategies you employ. If any of the ideas mentioned within this post are helpful, please send me a note. I’d love to hear your stories and see your photos of reuniting.
Here’s to your greatness,
For early two decades, Misti Burmeister has empowered leaders with the confidence and tools to solve people problems, increasing productivity and engagement across generations. She is a best-selling author, TEDx Speaker, award-winning entrepreneur, and community advocate.