Any crises we face can be an opportunity to lean on our strengths and shore up our weaknesses.
In South Florida where I live, this past week has been wearisome, to say the least. The threat of devastation looming in the media for days before the storm, the evacuations, the empty grocery store shelves, the long wait for the actual arrival of the storm in dark shuttered homes. Then the aftermath, for the Keys and west coast of Florida, true devastation of lost homes and businesses. For elderly folks in a nursing home, lost lives after being trapped without power for days with 90 degrees plus heat.
The week preceding the hurricane I spoke to an anxious client whom I had been working with to enhance leadership skills with his employees. At this time however, he was dealing with stress of keeping his family together. His wife and children wanted to leave the state (they were not in an evacuation zone). He wanted to stay and watch over his business offering to fly them out while he stayed behind. They wanted him to come along so they could stick together as a family. Arguments ensued. Harsh words were flung. Relationships broke down. All adding to the already mounting stress of the storm.
In the midst of this pre-Irma family frenzy, he realized this would be a good opportunity to use the new self-awareness he had about communication based on real data rather than assumptions. He was a very direct and bold person, who was used to making quick decisions for the greater good, at least in his mind. However, this time instead of insisting that everyone do things his way, he decided to do something he wouldn’t normally do. He took a few minutes to reflect on what was most important to him and to wonder if his family saw it the same way instead of assuming that they did. He then sat them down and asked them in a genuinely curious way, what was most important to them and why. They shared their fears of being alone without him. They needed to know that they came first. Years of his dedication to work did give them the lifestyle they enjoyed but at what cost? They feared he loved the business more than them.
He was stunned. He assumed that his ideas of safety and security were the same for him as for his family. But they were not.
In the end, he stayed behind and his family went to North Carolina for a week. But with a new understanding of how they perceived safety, security and love differently. By stepping into the others’ shoes and seeing things from the others’ perspective, real communication happened. Real empathy was felt. In this case, the decision of whether to go or stay was not what was critical. It was knowing that each side was being heard and understood. That everyone’s needs mattered.
Tough times are excellent times for digging deep. The willingness to pause, check your assumptions and ask for feedback can mean the difference between rising to the next level or falling further behind. As my client noted afterward, he never assumes the numbers on his balance sheet, he always double checks them for accuracy. Why wouldn’t he do the same when the stakes are so much higher with the people he most loves and cares about?
Jo-Aynne von Born, Executive Coach