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This week I delivered a virtual training session on how to be an effective leader in a time of crisis and the area of the talk that seemed to be most impactful to the 23 senior leaders in the session was the emotional cycle that people are going through right now dealing with the pandemic. I explained that when people are faced with what they perceive as negative change the emotional reaction can be the same as when someone they know dies. Here is a chart that outlines the process.

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One of the challenges for many leaders is the strong desire to “fix things” and not worry about other people’s emotions – just get the job done. This is a bad strategy at any time but especially right now that is not going to work, it’s actually going to make things much worse. Take a moment to think about the people in your organization and where they are in this process and realize it’s your job to support them as they work through this emotional roller coaster. Here is a five-step framework to help you when you are talking to someone who seems stressed, angry, or overwhelmed with anxiety.

1. Listen. Just shut up and listen to the other person with a desire to truly understand.

2. Validate their emotions. Even if you think that they are being silly, overreacting or just complaining – they have every right to feel that way and you need to support them by showing that you understand how they feel and empathize with their situation.

“I can see that you’re feeling a lot of anxiety, that’s absolutely natural at a time like this, everyone is feeling anxious.”

“I agree that this situation is totally unfair, that’s got to be very frustrating for you, I understand why you feel that way.

“I know you’re upset, and you should be, anyone would feel like that when this sort of stuff happens.”

“I’m with you on that, this is a scary situation and it is totally right to feel the way you do, actually I feel scared too.”

3. Ask if you can help or share ideas with them. Most times people will welcome your feedback, but sometimes they simply want to vent their emotions to an understanding and supportive person.

4. If they accept your offer, then give them your point of view, realizing that you aren’t necessarily right, it’s just how you see things and the advice that you think would be good for them. What you want to avoid here is telling people what to do, instead, you want them to come up with their own solution (with your guidance) so that they own it and will own the outcome.

5. Validate their emotions again and ask if there’s anything else you can do to help and support them.

Yesterday I came across a Harvard article that covers the same topic and another one on leading through a crisis. I hope you find this helpful and please let me know if there’s anything I can do to assist you or your organization. 

Stay safe and be strong – John

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John Spence is widely recognized as one of the top business and leadership development experts in the world.

At 26 years old, John was appointed as CEO of an international Rockefeller foundation, overseeing projects across 20 countries. Just two years later, Inc. Magazine named him one of America’s Up and Coming Young Business Leaders. John is also recognized as one of the Top 100 Business Thought Leaders in America, one of the Top 100 Small Business Influencers in America, one of the Top 50 Small BusinessExperts in America and one of the top 500 Leadership Development Experts in the World. The American Management Association named him one of America’s Top 50 Leaders to Watch along with Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google as well as Jeff Bezos of Amazon. He is also recognized by the highly prestigious Thinkers50 as one of the top eight in the world for their Distinguished Achievement Award.