As I’ve been writing about the past couple of weeks, the allostatic load of the extraordinarily stressful period we’re living, working and leading through demands that we be more mindful about the routines that can help us be both effective and healthy. I’ve already written about physical and mental routines. This week, I want to talk about relational routines; the ones that address our basic need for love and belonging and that also help keep us alive.

From a purely utilitarian standpoint, it’s fairly obvious that if you want to get positive results over the long-run, you need to invest in positive relationships. They’re essential to getting things done. From a humanistic standpoint, positive relationships make life more fun, strengthen your immune system (kind of important during a global pandemic), and increase your life expectancy by reducing the likelihood of heart disease, cancer, strokes and Alzheimer’s. As this article that summarizes the ground breaking research of UCLA professor Steve Cole states, “our bodies see loneliness as a mortal threat.” From an evolutionary standpoint, we’re wired to intuit loneliness and isolation as a threat to our survival because it’s easier for a group to fend off a saber tooth tiger than it is for an individual. The sense of isolation that working from home can bring prompts us to seek out connection with others. That’s why you’ve been doing all of those virtual happy hours and meet-ups. That’s a good thing because it’s helping you get out of the chronic state of fight or flight that both reduces your performance and your health and well-being.

As many of us will continue to work from home and maintain physical distance for the foreseeable future, here are a few things to consider incorporating into your virtual relationships as well the ones you have with the people you live with.

Include Transformational Listening In Your Mix – As I wrote about in my book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, there are three basic kinds of listening – transient, transactional and transformational. As the accompanying chart makes clear, all of us engage in transient listening where we’re so distracted with our own agenda and thoughts that we don’t actually listen. Transactional listening is focused on solving a problem or identifying a next step and is much higher value-added. We’re all seeing and doing a lot of that on work-related Zooms but if we stop at transactional listening, we miss out on the opportunities for deeper relationships. That’s where transformational listening comes in – listening with no other purpose than to connect and learn more about the other person or people. Open-ended questions that spark warm memories, a sense of fun, reflections on gratitude or hope for the future are a great way to set up transformational conversations. This blog post I wrote a few years ago has a list of those kinds of questions. Why not ask one or two of those in your next team Zoom meeting or casual conversation with a friend or family member?

Three Styles of Listening, The Eblin Group

Make the Time and Take the Time – Do your best to pay attention to how you’re allocating your conversational time. What percentage of it is focused on more transactional conversations? If more than 80 percent are focused on human “do-ings”, make and take some regular time to focus on the human beings through transformational conversations.

Variety is the Spice of Life – Routines and patterns are useful in life because they help us get things done without having to start from scratch every time we do them. The weekly staff meeting, the rotation of shirts you’re wearing on Zoom and the walk you go on after lunch are all examples of routines that are helpful until they’re not. They’re not when they get you into a rut of not noticing when you’re repeating yourself without looking for opportunities for deeper connection with colleagues, friends and family. Variety is the spice of life. Spark new connections by changing up your meetings and routines and inviting others into a different mix that brings fresh energy by shaking things up. A little creativity in a pandemic never hurt anyone!

Strong, healthy relationships are vital to both productivity and health and well-being. What have you been doing to deepen yours during the pandemic?

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For many of us in the United States, week seven or so of the work from home (WFH) period is underway. And even as attention turns to how to get people back to the office, it’s pretty clear that we’re at the beginning of a pretty long haul of a lot more working from home than we ever thought we would. From my vantage point as a long-time work from homer and a coach to a lot of leaders and teams who are new to the scene, what I’m seeing is a slow realization that we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. And that means we’re going to have to adjust if we plan to finish the race on our feet.  About a month ago on the Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, noted relationship counselor and therapist Esther Perel observed of the early days of WFH, “Never before have people worked so hard and gotten so little done.”

Inspired by Perel and what I’m seeing and hearing, here are
three recommendations of things you need to stop doing this week if you want to
work a little less hard and, in the process, actually get more done. If you’re
in a leadership role, so much the better as whatever you stop doing will have a
positive ripple effect for the people on your team.

Stop Sitting All Day – You probably never imagined you’d spend so much time at your kitchen table or that desk you set up in your extra bedroom. I have had way more than one client tell me that they’re sitting at their table in front of their screen for 10 or 12 hours a day without much of a break. I checked out some data from Fitbit today that showed the average step count for their users was down 12 percent the week of March 22 just as the WFH period was cranking up. I haven’t seen more recent data but am guessing the decline is now steeper and deeper. Sitting all day is bad for your health in general and bad for your brain in particular. You need fresh input to keep your neural network humming. Get up and out of your cave throughout the day. When you come back to the screen, you’ll feel better and think better.  

Stop Making Every Meeting a Zoom Call – When the WFH period started, all the cool kids moved to Zoom. The barriers to entry were low and the value of seeing colleagues’ faces was high. The value is still there, but several weeks in, it looks we’ve all overcorrected on the use of  Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. The new notice is the emerging trend of Zoom fatigue. My colleague Beth Schumaker shared this article from National Geographic that explains what it is and why it happens. Here’s the summary. You’ve never been on stage before like you are on Zoom. In the Brady Bunch screen share mode, everyone can see everyone else’s micro expressions and you’re aware you’re being watched as carefully as you’re watching others. You might even be watching yourself as you speak which is not something you ever did pre-pandemic. It’s exhausting and leaves you depleted with less frontal brain lobe capacity to think strategically and make sound decisions. Zoom is great until it isn’t. Mix up your communications modalities. Take some old-fashioned phone calls a few times a day instead of another Zoom.

Stop Holding on to Your Original Plan – Going back to work won’t mean going back to normal. You’re not going to pick right back up with the strategic plans you laid out before the pandemic; you’ll have to continue to reprioritize and reimagine based on new realities. In spite of everything that’s already changed and all that clearly will change from this point forward, I’m hearing from clients that a lot of their colleagues are still pushing and grinding away on their original business plans for the year. I get that at some level – there’s comfort in the familiar and in the belief that by following a plan we’re in control of our outcomes. Well, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If you’re tempted to stick with your plan, acknowledge that you and everyone else in the world has just taken the mother of all left hooks to the jaw. If you’re still holding on to the original plan, let go of it, step back and ask, “What’s most needed and most important now?”

So, that’s my short list of three things to stop doing this
week. What’s on your list?

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As I write this, most of us in the United States are marking
one month of stay at home and work from home orders to mitigate the public
health impacts of the coronavirus. Those of us who are working from home
recognize it’s a privilege to do so and have enormous gratitude and admiration
for the health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, first
responders and so many others who are going to work so the rest of us can stay
home.

That said, staying home and working from home can present
some unexpected challenges. The biggest one that I’m noticing in talking with
my clients and observing myself is that many of us are actually putting in more
hours working from home than we did pre-pandemic. That’s not at all what I
expected when we started this new phase a month ago. In the early days of WFH,
my expectation for my clients was since their commuting time was going to shrink from
“home to office” to “bedroom to den,” they would suddenly
have way more time available to them during the day than they did at the end of
February.

Initially, I thought, “Great, everyone will have more
time to sleep and work out.” What’s happening instead for most people I
talk with is that they’re spending that found time on more Zoom meetings. Then
things get compounded by the fact that a day of Zoom after Zoom means you’re
sitting at your desk even more than usual. Before you know it, it’s dinner time
and you haven’t done anything in terms of physical, mental, relational or
spiritual routines that help you be at your best for yourself, your family,
team, colleagues, customers, etc. You’re sitting more than you’re used to
because all of your meetings are in front of a screen and there’s no conference
room down the hall that you have to get up and walk to. You’re not going out
for lunch or coffee since you’re doing your meet-ups virtually from home. As
one client pointed out to me last week, your brain is becoming rewired from the
lack of fresh visual input when you drive back and forth to work. The days run
together because they all feel exactly the same. As I wrote to a client in an
email this morning, “Happy Monday – second verse, same as the first.”

So, what can we all do about this? As it happens, this is
also the period that in normal times a lot of people would be taking Spring
Break trips with their families. One of my CEO clients reminded me of that when
we talked last week. He, his leadership team and everyone else in their
financial services company have been working overtime these past four weeks to
take care of their customers and each other. He told me that he asked his
leaders to pick a weekday or two in the next couple of weeks to go offline for
a mini, stay-at-home Spring Break to renew and refresh the health and
well-being of themselves and their families.

That’s good advice for all of us. Just because you’re working
from home doesn’t mean you don’t need a little Spring Break time away from the WFH
routine. And, when you’re working that routine, make sure to schedule little
breaks throughout the day that get you out of your seat and away from the
screen.

In following my own advice, I took an extended nature walk
today and found the guy in the accompanying photo along the way. It brings me a
small sense of peace to consider that this bird has no idea there’s a pandemic
going on. It’s just another day in the pond for him.

So, this would normally be the point in the post where I’d
give you a little list of things to do to take a break. I’m not going to do
that this time. You know what to do. Please do it. Take care of yourself and
stay healthy – physically, mentally, relationally and spiritually.

Please share what you’re doing to take care of yourself during the pandemic. We’ll all benefit from the collective wisdom.

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In times of crisis, complex decisions often have to be made
and implemented quickly. It can be challenging to coordinate and obtain buy-in
on those big decisions even when the stakeholders can get in a room together to
hash it all out. In the new “Work from Home” (WFH) era sparked by the COVID-19
pandemic, being in the same room isn’t an option. That can lead to some
predictable conflict-management problems that you can avoid with a little foresight
and creativity.

Think back to that distant time of February 2020 and
earlier. There were probably times when you found yourself in the middle of an
email flame war. You remember how those went. One or more participants poured
gas on the fire by sharing crazy assumptions or accusations without having all
the facts. If you’re like the best leaders I’ve coached, you calmed the conflict
by pulling the parties together to talk things out. Just the act of bringing the
players into the same room made things better because once people are together,
they connect more as human beings and not as faceless combatants sitting at
their keyboards.

Now that we’re all WFH, leaders need to be super intentional
and proactive about creating virtual spaces for human connection. For instance,
let’s say you’re finding yourself at odds with a colleague about how your teams
should coordinate and work together during the crisis. One option is to send
emails back and forth (and maybe CC’ing a few people in the process) so the two
of you can argue about who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s not good for anybody
– your customers, your teams or either of you.

If you were in the pre-WFH days what would you do? I asked
that question of an executive coaching client a few days ago who was in the
middle of one of those virtual conflict loops. He immediately answered, “I’d
walk down to his office and say, ‘Let’s go get a beer and talk things over.’”
We concluded that that was still a good move, it would just have to be executed
a little differently. Later that day, he set up a FaceTime call with his colleague
and they each had a beer while they talked things over. The next day, they
co-led an online meeting of both of their teams so everyone was working from
the same playbook. The show of leadership unity that was engineered over a
virtual happy hour was a crucial component of getting things back on track.
(Thanks to my client for giving me the OK to share his story with you.)

We don’t realize how much our effectiveness as leaders and
colleagues depends on the little things like picking up on facial expressions
and body language while we’re relaxing together until our usual ways of doing
that are no longer available. Until they are again, we’re all going to have to
be more mindful of creating and calling for virtual alternatives. Our ability
to make complex decisions and get good things done without a lot of needless
friction depends on it.

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