One of the benefits of crisis is, we are reminded of the things that really matter. The social distancing imperative is revealing how important human contact is for our well being. As a psychologist I have come to see that people who lack interaction with others can become quite disturbed and confused. As we talk to ourselves, we can become convinced of some very crazy things. It is often only when we express these things to others that we are either given reassuring support that we really should be upset, or we find out that it is our own thinking that is the root of our problem.
What management can do to help with people stay psychologically healthy is to connect with them. Connecting in person is wonderful, but it works just as well to talk on the phone. One of the most important management practices is the one-on-one meeting. I seldom see it done well. Often it is not done at all, largely because people don’t know how to do it right and so don’t see the value.
Here are a few tips:
Every manager should have a one on one meeting with every direct report on some regular basis.
The length, process, setting and frequency of meetings should vary from person to person depending on what they need and what works for them. Some people need a one-on-one only once a month. Some people need it every day. And it can vary for the individual depending on what they are going through.
There are two purposes for one on one meetings:
1. Throw off discouragement
2. Control direction.
Your role as the manager in throwing off discouragement is to ask how people are doing, ask how they are feeling, ask what they are having difficulty with, ask what they are proud of, but mostly, listen. There is a psychologist’s trick that people tend not to know. That is, if a person is experiencing a difficult emotion, and if they express that emotion to another person, the emotion changes toward a more positive emotion. And people are generally grateful to have been listened to. You can learn more about this trick at: https://www.kimpayton.com/sensitive-listening
After you have done your best to help throw off discouragement, the next step is to control direction. You might ask: “So what are you working on today?” “What is your goal for today?” “What are you working on this week? How are we going to solve a particular problem?”
In a time such as this I would not limit connecting with the people under your supervision to direct reports. If your organizational culture will support it, conduct skip level meetings as well. Check in with people and see how they are doing.
What management can do immediately in this time of social distancing is to connect with people. Ask them how they are doing. Listen. Help them throw off discouragement, and then get them focused on their work. Focusing on work is a wonderful distraction in a crisis. And last, make sure somebody is listening to you, so you don’t become part of the problem