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Understanding the Human Elements in Your Business: Trust, Collaboration, and Emotional Loss

We are at a unique time in human history, and while we are all living our own reality, we also are experiencing a global sense of connectivity – and grief.

Katie O’Malley is senior associate director of leadership development at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She has a master’s degree in counseling and is a board-certified life and career coach. Her session explored leadership practices to deepen human connection and enhance organizational trust as we experience a range of emotions, which she described as the many stages of grief.

When we think about grief, we think about the loss of a loved one, and while the loss we are currently experiencing is not the same – it is an emotional loss, she explained, and when we experience this, we go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and finally acceptance.

“I would love to tell you that it’s this neat and clean and we just go through this cycle and once we’ve hit acceptance we’re all done. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more messy than that and folks will often bounce between these five stages,” said O’Malley, during her Small Business Bootcamp session.

This makes it important to practice self-compassion because the more we resist a feeling or one of these stages, the greater the stress becomes.

Thinking about the stages of grief in the framework of the pandemic the first stage is denial: that this isn’t going to affect you, your family, or your business. Then anger and bargaining: “If I do XYZ …if I socially distance or if I shelter in place for these two weeks this will all be over it’ll all be good. I’ll just stay at home, it’s going to be fine,” she said. Then moving into sadness and, finally, acceptance.

As you move through these stages and experience a range of emotions, “sit with it for a moment … don’t push it away,” said O’Malley. “Embrace it, try not to judge it, and recognize that we’re all going through this.”

Importantly, grief often also causes stress, to which humans generally respond in one of three ways:

  1. Moving away
  2. Moving against
  3. Moving toward

“We really cannot control the way that we feel,” said O’Malley. “We’ve evolved to have feelings first and then thoughts, but if we can identify the triggers that cause the feelings we can become in much more control of the thoughts and behaviors that follow.”

As she explained, the first way humans respond to stress is called “moving away” – the flight. This looks like withdrawing, hiding, keeping thoughts and feelings to ourselves. If a friend, family member, or employee is responding in this way, it is important to remember “this is not you, this is not them, this is not me all of the time – it’s us during times of stress,” said O’Malley.

To support someone practicing this “moving away”’ response, “get curious,” O’Malley explained. Do what you can to create a space that allows someone to feel brave enough to share what it is that they’re feeling and to stop withdrawing, she said.

On the opposite of the spectrum, is the “moving against” response, or fight. With this, one may be looking to try and gain power over others in an aggressive way. This can look like creating unnecessary conflict, picking fights, or being unwilling to let go of a perspective.

The third response is called “moving toward” – an approval response that looks at how we can please and appease others in order to calm our own stress, explained O’Malley. Someone experiencing this may need to hear from their supervisor that they are doing a good job and that their productivity and work is being recognized and rewarded.

“The moving toward response tends to have us going over and above in order to gain approval from others,” said O’Malley. If you have employees that are doing this, encourage them to take time for themselves and let them know they are safe. Again, this takes being curious, she said.

“Consider which of these three categories of stress response do you tend to gravitate most towards and be on the lookout for employees that might be exhibiting some of these behaviors and try and open up a dialogue with them,” added O’Malley, stressing the importance of creating space for people to feel safe and brave.

As part of this, O’Malley talked through the 7-Dimensions of Trust (BRAVING), which were developed by Brene Brown:

  1. Boundaries: Be clear about what is acceptable and what is not
  2. Reliability: Do what you say you will do and let boundaries be your guide
  3. Accountability: Own your mistakes, demonstrate remorse, make actionable amends
  4. Vault: Secrets are no fun – but if someone confides in you, keep their trust
  5. Integrity: Choose courage over comfort, show up as your most authentic self
  6. Non-judgment: Imperfections are not inadequacies, they are a reminder that we are all in this together
  7. Generosity: Give people space to show up as who they are in their whole life, because there is little separation between work and life

“I am doing the very best that I can. Everyone else is doing the very best that they can do, and right now it is enough, because it has to be,” added O’Malley. “These are all of the ways that we can really connect with our teams to create something that’s even more powerful on the other side of this.”

The Polsky Center’s virtual Small Business Bootcamp was made possible through a partnership with the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Office of Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago, on behalf of a larger coalition of University groups and partners.

// We will be recapping the Bootcamp all week, but all the sessions were recorded and can be found online, here.

Interested in seeking more coaching and support? Apply for the Small Business Circle. Applications are due Thursday, April 28 at 5:00 p.m. CST. Learn more and apply. >>

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