Working with your colleagues and coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic brings up communication challenges that we’ve (thankfully) never dealt with before. I’m sharing tips for how to minimize conflicts and enhance your communications during the coronavirus emergency. This information is directed at those of us who are not on the front lines. Most likely you are able to work from home or in an office while social distancing and taking safety precautions.
We’ve already covered the dangers of assuming you know what is going on with your coworkers. The next tip builds on this. It’s about allowing time to be social, and well, human.
While riding the current wave of urgency and stress, we’re in triage mode and adopting a “cut to the chase” mindset. This is a normal reaction in an emergency. In this case the emergency is continuing for months and months. Goodbye to the small, friendly exchanges that used to pepper our days. We’re missing out on discussions of the weekend, shared dreams about vacation plans, and awkward chatter at forced office parties. Previously you may have thought these were unavoidable time wasters. Yet now we are lacking the messy social ‘glue’ that reminds us of our similarities, differences, and shared experiences.
Allowing space for social interaction with your colleagues and coworkers is important. This responsibility doesn’t rest solely with managers and leaders (who in some cases seem to have missed the message). You can do this by briefly and occasionally chatting with people when possible. This could be as simple as building time into a meeting to ask “How are you?” and “How is your family?” Perhaps in a text message you can check in with a coworker before you launch into your work request or question. Your boss will likely be pleasantly surprised if you say, “I’m checking in to see how you are holding up. How are you doing with all this craziness?” If you're missing chats with a particular work buddy, suggest having 10-minute virtual coffee breaks where you can just catch up.
You can also take this opportunity to contact colleagues you've lost touch with. It can simply be an email, a text, and or a message through LinkedIn or some other form of social media. It needn't be complicated. Try a short note saying, "I know it's been awhile, but I was thinking of you and hope you and your family are doing well."
Admittedly, it's frustrating to have to initiate friendliness. It feels even worse if it is not reciprocated, which will happen. I’ve been surprised, and honestly saddened, but the cold, sterile (no pun intended) exchanges I’ve had with people when reaching out to set up meetings and discuss projects. Despite this, I’ve been writing back asking how they are doing and how things are going. About half of the time I receive responses showing they are happily surprised and relieved by the question. The other half return robotic, cold, "I'm fine" responses. I can try, can’t I? Just the process of thinking about others helps remove me from the self-pitying quagmire that is so easy to get stuck in right now.
By taking some small steps to check in with people and socialize, you are rebuilding trust and teamwork, while helping yourself get centered and connected. We’re allowed to be human and treat others as humans.
Communicating with colleagues and coworkers during a pandemic is, thankfully, something you probably haven’t done before. It seems that whatever was happening before the pandemic is now heightened. The people that usually irritated you before may now make you outright furious. Perhaps your clueless coworker has checked out even more than usual.
Assuming you are one of the fortunate people who still has a job, you are now navigating a bizarre new world of work. We’re all grasping with this situation and realigning our jobs and our daily lives while we are in survival mode.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing tips for how to effectively work with your coworkers in this current COVID pandemic. While the information can apply to anyone, it is directed at those of us who are not on the front lines. Most likely you are able to work from home or in an office while social distancing and taking safety precautions.
Right now you are going through the stress of maintaining a job while protecting yourself and others from illness, getting the food and supplies you need, and having your work life blur with your homelife. You may be worried about sick or recovering loved ones, or, even worse, grieving the loss of someone. You may have children at home without daycare or a traditional school day. Family members or roommates are unexpected office mates. On top of this, we are isolated from our communities and support systems.
Naturally, you may find yourself comparing your situation to others. This is something we do even when things are going well. But, right now, this comparison can bring up deep resentment and frustration if you feel others are benefiting in ways you can’t. I’ve heard comments from people who feel their coworkers have it “easier.” Some people say that their coworkers who are home with children are getting more leeway and granted excused absences “just to spend time with their kids.” On the other hand, I’ve heard some say that their single colleagues or coworkers who don’t have children are getting a “vacation” and can just cruise through their day. I’m sick of hearing people respond with “It must be nice” to what another person is experiencing.
This toxic thinking can lead to assumptions of favoritism and preferential treatment. It’s easy to assume why certain people are being given desirable projects, about who is receiving technology upgrades or other perceived perks, and why coworkers don’t answer the phone on the first ring. This stirs up envy and resentment towards anyone who appears to have a more positive situation than you.
Judgment is exhausting. This is particularly true now, when we’re already exhausted and vulnerable. Here is my first and fundamental tip. Don’t allow your fear and frustration to lead you to criticize and vilify others. Beware of making assumptions about what anyone else is dealing with despite how many happy pictures of freshly baked bread they post on social media. We are all struggling. Each person is struggling in a different way.
You will feel a mental burden being released if you stop forcing your coworkers and colleagues to justify their situation to you. Once you assume the best of people, and create a different dialogue in your head about their situation, you’ll look at them with more empathy and less anger. They will notice the change in your interactions with them and you’ll stop adding to the pile of anger already on your back. You’ll be the better for it.
Conventional advice is to search for the actual name of the person who will be reviewing or receiving your letter. I disagree with this and think taking that effort is a waste of time and adds extra stress to an already nerve-wracking process. My advice is very simple and will let you spend your time on perfecting your resume and the content of your cover letter.
If the name of specific person is given in a job listing, obviously that is the name you should use. But, if no name is given you should address your note to the hiring manager. Yes, that means saying “Dear Hiring Manager” in the letter’s salutation. This is preferable to the stilted “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”
There. You just saved hours of searching and worry about how to address your cover letter. You're welcome.
Let me know if you’re interested in other information about what to put in cover letters, how to address an unsolicited job application, or effective approaches for cover letters. Just reach out if I can help you update your resume and target a resume or cover letter to a specific job.
“We only have one soulmate in this world,” she said while looking sadly at me and thinking of her recent breakup. She truly believed that there is just one person she was destined to be with. What if the person who just broke her heart was “the one?” She might as well give up on any hope of finding love and happiness. This type of thinking can tear you apart.
The same is true when you think of work.
Do you think there is only one “perfect job” where you will be handed copious amounts of money for doing what you love? I’m sorry to shatter the dream, but this isn’t true. If you are unhappy in your current job and/or looking for a new job, It’s important that you be realistic as you consider your options. Yes, you deserve to be happy at work! But, there is not one perfect job where you enjoy 100% of everything you do.
Your goal is to find the job that best aligns with your values and what is most important to you. Also, when debating your next career step, you should consider how taking a job will help you get closer to reaching your goals. In other words, does moving to a new job get you closer to where you eventually want to be?
It’s also important to be realistic. Of course you shouldn’t stop dreaming or give up on your strategy for landing an amazing job. But, if you want to be a surgeon, you can’t just will it to happen. You need to start by going to medical school and then work on it from there. Know what foundation you need to lay down and build from there.
A job hunt is stressful enough without dismissing opportunities as not being perfect. You want to get as close to perfect as you can, but don’t dismiss opportunities that will help you get there. Wondering how to reframe your concept of a “perfect job” without settling? I’m here to help.
While at my son’s basketball practice, I overheard a conversation between the coach and one of the players. The coach asked the boy why he didn’t take a shot even though he was wide open. The boy shrugged and looked away. He’s not one of the hot shots on the team and clearly was worried about landing the ball in the basket.
The coach put an arm on his shoulder, looked him directly in the eyes, and said, “When you are wide open like that, you need to take the shot. I won’t get mad at you if you miss. You just need to try.”
I was blown away by how these words sum up the fear-based decisions we all make. How often do you avoiding taking the shot, even though you are standing on the court unchallenged?
Fear of failure can be paralyzing. Failure is different for each of us and different in each situation. Perhaps it means you’ll feel stupid, be ridiculed, embarrassed, or ashamed?
We can apply much more dramatic consequences to something not working out. The fear of failure builds upon itself itself and intensifies to dramatic heights. You don’t just miss the shot, but you are humiliated as the worst player of all time and you get kicked off the team. You don’t just miss out on the job you applied for, but you're doomed to an eternity in a miserable job and will be shunned by those who work at your dream company. Hoping to protect ourselves, we give into the fear and rationalize our inaction.
I’m here to remind you to take the shot. Acknowledge your negative fear-filled thoughts, but then dig deep so you can follow through. Stop the horror movie you are playing in your mind with the worst possible outcome, and consider the true risk. Most likely the fears are much more dire than anything that will happen. And, quite honestly, no one will really care about it except you. Days later, people won’t be saying “Did you see that person who tried to make the shot on the basketball court and failed?” Nope! Everyone is worried about their own fears and won’t spend much time on yours.
Give yourself permission to try and to break through your fears. Turn off the negative thoughts in your head and congratulate yourself on giving yourself a chance.
How is fear holding you back? Are you not making a phone call, applying for a better job, asking for a promotion, or even extending a friendly greeting to someone you want to meet? On your daily ‘to-do” list, write down “Stop making fear-based decisions.” Catch yourself when you do.
Take the shot.
Rather wait in a long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles than network? Does the thought of networking make you involuntarily groan? You aren’t alone!
I was just talking to a client who’s in the midst of a career transition and wanting to expand her network. Yet, she dreads the idea of connecting with people she doesn’t know. She also feels like networking is smarmy and manipulative. She asked, “How can an interaction with someone turn into a job offer without being exploitive?”
Even though networking is a career-booster, it’s hard to break through the fear. You can do it, though, and will likely find it invaluable. A recent study from LinkedIn reported that 70 percent of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection. This number will likely continue to go up in our increasingly interconnected world.
It’s important to reframe your thoughts about networking. You don’t need to transform yourself into a used car salesman to make a deal and you aren’t in it to exploit anyone! Stop thinking of networking as trying to get a job. Your goal is to get to know people and build relationships. It goes both ways. While meeting and learning from others, you also are expanding their network and sharing your unique perspective with them.
I've found the key to successful networking is to approach it with the 3 C's: Curiosity, Connection, and Care.
When you are curious about the person you're talking to, networking stops being about you. You want to learn about whomever it is that you are speaking with. Asking genuine questions breaks down any feelings of networking “smarminess.” Most people enjoy talking about themselves and would be happy to share information about their career path. They can pass along lessons learned and give you invaluable advice.
Finding commonalities between you and the other person will put you both at ease and can help form a relationship. You may find that you both went to the same school, have a similar background, have shared interests, or are in the same LinkedIn groups. When you reach out to people, it is extremely helpful if you can mention something you have in common. It is a great way to introduce yourself, and will help with the conversation. Also, it is very powerful to reach out to people by commenting and following up on article, video, presentation, blog, Instagram post, or something else they have created or shared. By doing this, you are showing an interest in their perspective and also demonstrating common ground.
Just as you would be concerned for a friend's well-being, you should show the same concern for those in your network. Treat each person as you would a friend. Don't put them in a position to feel used or bad about the exchange. Be polite and thankful.
Putting these 3 C’s together can transform your networking experience. In the future, I’ll write more about finding people to connect with, how to contact them, what to do during the chat, and how to follow-up. Anything else you want me to cover? Also, let me know how networking has worked (or not worked) for you.