Biases influence us all. The funniest part is that we are biased towards believing we aren’t biased, or at least not as much as other people. Unfortunately, this is one reason “flattening the curve” is so challenging.
To address this challenge requires all of us to recognize how our beliefs influence our decisions. There is one particularly misguided belief that seems especially prevalent at the moment. And before you shake your head in agreement, make sure you haven’t fallen into it.
1) People believe that they represent the “exception” rather than the “rule.”
For example, on a walk yesterday, I came across a group of six people standing close together talking. As I approached they said, “Don’t worry, we’re all good, we know each other.”
Because they knew one another (exception), they excluded themselves from the suggested social-distancing practices (rule).
Adding to this is that we then have a biased tendency to discount and even rationalize our actions, BUT we then judge the collective actions of others.
Consider this conversation, “People need to take this seriously; they should be fined for not following the rules… I’m going to call my hairdresser and see if she can squeeze me in an appointment before they close.”
Do you want to know how I know this conversation happened? Because it was ME!
I did catch the hypocrisy of my comment the moment I said it, but it is also why I wrote this.
At the end of the day, it is because we are uncomfortable, we feel inconvenienced, and we want our lives to remain as normal as possible. We are human.
We are also part of a society trying to stop a pandemic, and as the saying goes, “We need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves!”
Perspective matters. The desert is made up of specks of sand and oceans are the individual collection of droplets of water. We are the collective, not the exception. The combination of our small, but positive actions to socially-distance will have an out-sized impact on flattening the curve.
And just for the record, I did not get a haircut!
This is not the time to compare yourself to others, although I appreciate it is a very tempting thing to do.
Instead, use this time to look inside and ask,
“What will serve me best?”
“My family best?”
“My company, team, clients, patients best?”
My community best?”
“Our society best?”
There is no wrong answer; there is only your answer.
My request is to let this moment, this crisis, be of service in some way.
It’s the start of another week in the midst of COVID-19. I suspect it will feel different, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but I’d like to ask you to start by doing something difficult.
I ‘d like you to reflect on one of the hardest events in your life (outside of the current situation), where the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.
Knowing what you know now, and accepting that you can’t change the outcome, what would have helped you better cope with that situation?
Now, write down how can you apply that wisdom today.
In 2016, my mother died from breast cancer. When her cancer came back, it rapidly spread throughout her body. I spent the first couple of weeks obsessively trying to figure out how long she would live.
I felt that if I had this answer, I could make the best decisions around her comfort and treatment, when to notify family and friends, how much time I would need to take off work etc.
I believed that I could handle everything, if I just knew when my mothers death was coming.
I’ll give you one guess what my learning was?
I can’t predict, control, or force the future to unfold as I would like, not matter how hard I try.
I needed to increase my uncertainty tolerance and move on not knowing.
I needed to learn to make decisions on incomplete information.
I had to accept some decisions were right and some were wrong.
I had to learn to trust that I was doing my very best, with the resources I had in my most difficult moment.
I did get there, but I was overwhelmed, heartbroken and mentally, emotionally and physically drained by the time I got there.
Today, with my entire business future uncertain, I have experienced the same emotions. The good news is, I went through that phase much more quickly this time. I am more comfortable sitting with uncertainty and trusting myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I want answers about when the pandemic will end, I want certainty in what the world will look like, and I’d love to know I am making the right decisions at the moment…but I feel like I’ve been training for this.
I suspect you have as well!
How to handle COVID-19 working from home.
With all of the uncertainty everyone is facing, there are three guarantees that you should expect :
1. Everything will take longer. Conferencing everyone in, trying to call into a customer service center, or waiting in line at the grocery store, expect everything to take longer.
2. Emotions will be running high. Everyone is facing uncertainty, but each person’s circumstances are different. It serves us to remember that as empathy is often the first causality in stressful situations. Even if you can’t see emotions, they are there and will influence people’s effectiveness and productivity, hence point number one.
3. Your colleagues, employees, and direct reports are TRUSTWORTHY. Please don’t make people earn your trust – start by giving it. Even if you can’t see them at their desk, even if they don’t respond immediately to your email, assume that points one and two are contributing to any delays, not that they are slacking off, untrustworthy, and lacking commitment.
It’s natural when dealing with sudden change and uncertainty for our brain to look for shortcuts via assumptions and expectations.
Shift these positively to strengthen relationships and help people be at their best.
We owe that to one another.
How to stop to them from filling your day and draining your energy
I once read a story of a college professor who
became stranded in the desert after Google Maps directed him to turn left –
onto a non-existent road. He obediently followed and ended up stuck; for 11
days. This was a professor! I’m guessing that those reading this are thinking,
You’d never do that, right?
Maybe not with Google Maps, but what about meetings?
Have you ever blindly accepted a meeting invite?
At the start of a workshop a couple of years ago, I
opened by asking what had brought the attendees there that morning. One woman
joked “my calendar!”, which was followed by knowing laughs from her colleagues.
Following a hunch, I asked how many other people had automatically accepted the
meeting invite to be there that morning. Hesitantly, nearly half of the people
put up their hands.
Much like the professor who blindly followed the
Google Maps directions, these intelligent, busy, senior leaders automatically
accepted a two-hour meeting invitation simply because it was in their inbox. This
example isn’t an isolated incident.
Excessive meetings are consistently named as one of
the most prominent organizational vitality drainers. Studies suggest as high
as 73% of
people say that they attend too many meetings too often.
In our research at BrainAMPED, we have found that
there are two primary reasons people automatically accept meetings.
First, because they feel that they
don’t have a choice, believing the meetings are mandatory.Supported
by research that suggests that the busier people become, the less choice they feel they have,
even if they have the authority to say no.
Or secondly, they feel they don’t
have the time to make a different choice at
the moment, so they default to automatically accepting the meeting. Put another
way, people believe that it would take too much time and effort to decline or
negotiate their attendance, so they make the most straightforward choice available at that moment,
which means simply saying yes.
Though understandable, each of these tendencies will
leave you spinning in a self-created, negatively reinforcing meeting vortex.
More meetings leave you with less time. Less time leaves you feeling like you
have less choice. Less choice and less time will drive you to automatically
accept more meetings – spin and spin.
So how do you ensure you don’t
get stranded in the meeting desert even when your calendar is trying to divert
you that way? Here are two strategies to break out of the meeting
When you feel like you don’t have a choice, turn on your high beams.
Typically, your car’s automatic daytime running
lights are designed to show the objects on the road in front of you. When you
turn on your high beams, it illuminates the objects around you.
Depending on your company culture or role, there are
undeniably specific meetings that you are expected to attend. That is the road
in front of you.
However, what possibilities on the periphery do you
have some discretion to make decisions around? If declining a meeting isn’t an
option, then take control of how you manage your energy, actions, and time
around those meetings.
Perhaps, you go in and block the hour following a
group of back-to-back meetings. This predetermined time block ensures you can
address follow-ups while things are fresh in your mind. Or maybe you pre-plan
some portable snacks to take to meetings to keep your energy up.
I like to put my favorite kickboxing class on my
calendar at the end of a day filled with meetings. This commitment forces me to
leave my work and helps me clear my mind. I am always more efficient the
following day or if need be, later that evening, if something urgently needs to
Push back on the feelings of
meeting overwhelm by turning on your high beams to see where you can take
deliberate control of your choices around future meetings.
When you feel like it’s easier just to accept, create a fork in the road.
This strategy is meant to force you to slow down,
analyze the terrain ahead, and make a thoughtful choice before automatically
accepting a meeting invite.
The decision fork is derived by asking yourself a
series of questions before accepting the meeting. Examples of the ones we use
at BrainAMPED when helping our clients deal with meeting depletion include:
- Are you clear on the purpose and what is expected of you in this meeting?
- Do you have the physical time and energy to be fully present and effectively contribute?
- How will attending this meeting impact on your productivity and critical priorities?
The goal of the
first question is to help you take personal accountability in collecting
Too often, people complain about meetings without
taking action to change them. If you don’t have these necessary details,
graciously ask for them before accepting it.
Remember, the meeting organizer has included you;
assume they see you as a valued attendee. In your request for details,
acknowledge that and let them know that your questions are to ensure you can
contribute best to the success of their meeting.
The goal of the
second question is to push you to be proactive with your time and energy
Take a step back and look at where this meeting
falls within your calendar. Consider both that day of the meeting and perhaps
that entire week. How many meetings do you have?
For example, maybe you need to let a meeting
organizer know that you are in back-to-back meetings in different locations, so
you will be late or may need to leave early. This clarification can help them
proactively adjust the agenda so that you can still contribute or be present
for decisions critical to your work.
I often choose a different location to take a
conference call to decrease distractions. Challenging yourself with these
considerations motivates you to manage your time and energy.
The goal of the
third question is to help you to think about goals and workflow more
When you feel overwhelmed and time-deprived, your
brain disconnects from strategy and future consequences. Instead, it defaults
to over-focusing on the most immediate, and often low-value tasks that are
directly in front of them (hence the meeting vortex). This question forces
your brain to consider a broader range of essential decision-making variables
by refocusing on the bigger picture, differentiating the important goals from
the immediate requests, and helping you to prioritize your energy and
If the answers to these questions suggest that your
attendance isn’t ideal from a business perspective, now you have a thoughtful
conversation template to have with the appropriate people.
And if it turns out you still need to attend, go
back to strategy number one and turn on your high beams.
Reframe the first part of the question to “What can
I do to ensure”…I am clear, I have the time, and it has the best
impact possible on my productivity and priorities. You will be surprised how
creative you can be when you make intentional decisions.
Whether Google Maps or meeting invites, you always
have some choice, so double-check before proceeding. It will surely help ensure
you don’t end up stuck somewhere you shouldn’t be!
Ross is a leadership expert, speaker and the Chief Vitality Officer at BrainAMPED,
a leadership strategy firm she founded to redefine how people succeed at work
and thrive in life. Through their research, workshops, coaching and keynotes,
Sara and her company help organizations build their Leadership Vitality
Quotient to create high capacity performers by strengthening their skills of energy
management, emotional intelligence, and resilience.
You can find out more
about Sara Ross and her work at www.brainamped.com or www.sarajross.com.