Last week, a business contact I communicate with almost daily sent me an email with a short but startling message:
“Helene: I am going to be out of the office for the rest of today and I’ll give an update later about tomorrow. My husband was laid off today and it’s a long story but I am going to spend some time with him. I’ll get [X and Y done], but not sure how much more I will be doing.”
Can you imagine receiving that news about your job?
The Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic has caused our lives to change dramatically. On a daily basis, you might be hit with a question, request, decision or event that’s completely out of the blue, and often the first time you’ve dealt with something like that, so it takes longer to arrive at a solution, decision or coping mechanism.
Notice a difference?
If you notice a colleague, employee or friend acting differently, inquire about their well-being. Here’s an example of how to approach a supervisor or more “formal” relationship:
“You don’t seem to be yourself. Are you O.K.?”
If the person is a friend, you can be much more informal, but still ask the same type of question.
And then listen.
It might be a five-second or 15-minute answer, but you’ll have a better understanding of their situation. This will allow you to move to the next step, which is resetting output or relationship expectations. Step 3 is approximating how long this will last, or when you’d like to revisit this adjustment.
What if it’s you?
If you’re the one who’s been hit with a surprise, you could take the first step the way my contact did and let others know what’s happening. If you don’t want to share details, keep it brief:
“I wanted to let you know that I’m dealing with a personal situation that I can’t get into right now. I’ll finish X and Y in the next hour, but I’ll be offline for the next two days while I figure things out. I appreciate your understanding.”
If you hear something like this, and your reaction is to tell them that deadlines are deadlines, and they need to finish everything as scheduled, here are two thoughts to consider:
When someone isn’t fully mentally present, their quality of work is far lower and the probability of them making mistakes increases exponentially. That isn’t very productive, so they’re not doing you any good continuing to work in that state.
If you were in their shoes, what would you want their response to you to be?
Although you might not be thrilled with an adjustment in your timelines or outputs, clear communication will allow everyone involved to make their own pivots and adjustments instead of losing time guessing why something isn’t happening the way it’s supposed to.
While productivity is still a vital component of successfully operating in the business world, during this unprecedented time, grace and empathy are equally important.
Communicating change promptly and directly is critical. Everyone involved will be able to recover and get back on track far more quickly this way.