Every Wednesday evening, our community members organize a digital huddle to catch up, connect and discuss different aspects of life under lockdown. It starts off with people sharing how they are coping and makes way for a freewheeling conversation. For the past two weeks, many members who had initially found creative ways to deal with the lockdown reported feeling irritable, withdrawn and less productive at work.
Turns out that feeling disoriented and directionless is not only normal but also unavoidable. Corporate psychologist Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg, who has studied several CEOs dealing with tough business decisions, says that most crises tend to have three stages: Emergency, regression and recovery.
The first weeks of managing any crisis (emergency stage) can feel both meaningful and energizing. Despite a drop in key business metrics such as revenue, there is a sense of adventure and purpose in grappling with unfamiliar challenges. Among other things, emergencies reveal personal and organizational grit. For some, emergencies bring out the best and for others, the worst. That said, even if one has excelled at the emergency stage, it is prudent to watch out. Initial momentum rarely lasts. The adventure of crisis management devolves into panic mitigation, making day-to-day business challenges seem insurmountable.
That’s what marks the beginning of the second stage, regression. Psychologists say regression is our defence mechanism against confusion and insecurity, as it creates the illusion of an emotional comfort zone. We feel listless, bicker, mess up our sleep cycles and either forget eating or overindulge. Most of us are in this stage right now. I was trying to skip this stage by taking up ambitious new goals, but it didn’t work. Instead, I witnessed a drop in energy levels.
The key challenge for anyone in the regression stage is to pull through without the burden of unrealistic expectations, get to the recovery phase and prepare for the new normal.
The first step to get out of it is to identify the triggers of our regression. My trigger turned out to be panic working and feeling a false sense of obligation to attend unnecessary webinars. Physical and mental exhaustion led to a dip in my productivity. Even with longer working hours, I was getting less stuff done.
The next step is to disrupt status quo. Fresh starts reenergize us, especially if we focus on doing things differently. Subtle nudges and micro changes in habit make all the difference. Not checking my phone for the first waking hour helped me create time to process my thoughts. The third step includes learning to calibrate the emotions of people we interact with regularly. We began this week’s happy hour by asking everyone to share how they were feeling on a scale of 10. By simply discussing our scores and sharing our coping mechanisms led to a meaningful conversation about the support needed to negotiate the crisis.
The fourth and final step is to go beyond the survival-first instinct and visualize the impact of our work. Wedell-Wedellsborg suggests we rephrase “How can we handle the crisis?" to “How do we emerge from the crisis stronger?" Such reorientation tends to shift our focus from managing short-term risks to working towards our long-term vision.
Utkarsh Amitabh is the founder of networkcapital.tv, a global peer mentoring community and a WEF Global Shaper