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Elections Trigger Great Anticipation as Well as Anxiety

| November 3, 2020

by Brian McDonald

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, President of MOR Associates.  Brian may be reached at [email protected].]
An Issue to Consider on Election Day Beyond Did You Vote?
As we finally reach Election Day, there is considerable anticipation built up by the 7 x 24 television coverage. There is also even more anxiety than usual over this decisive as well as divisive moment in our country. This anxiety is unfortunately coupled with a certain amount of foreboding.
It is helpful to think about how we can calm these concerns for ourselves as well as those we are leading during such turbulent times. On Wednesday morning do we dare ask people “how are you doing?”
Who Needed Anymore Anxiety During COVID?
There are numerous contributors to the unprecedented anxiety people are experiencing. We have the COVID virus, the resulting economic fallout, the racial injustice, the environmental disasters with fires in the west and flooding in the southeast along with a divisive national election. No wonder people are agitated. Our brains are threatened and go on high alert when we face such unsettling times.  Here are some ideas on how we can handle our own stressors while potentially helping others.
Suggestion #1: Acknowledge What You Are Experiencing
It is helpful to be emotionally self-aware and notice what you are feeling. Rather than suppressing your emotion, name it. Labeling the source of the anxiety will help you move this assessment to the cognitive level rather than as an underlying tension. Once the emotion is recognized, you can choose to let it go, put it aside or decide whether you need to do something to offset the concerns. Just recognizing the emotion can give you the power over how it is influencing you. It will help to notice what is contributing to the underlying emotion. For some people watching the news only heightens the agitation. Taking steps to reduce the sources feeding the anxiety can also put you in a better state of mind.
Whether at home or with your colleagues at work, we can ask others what they are experiencing. It is helpful to devote some of our energy to attending to how others are managing through this challenging stretch. As many people have found helping others whether through a food bank or shopping for a neighbor or recognizing the challenges of a co-worker, acts of kindness contribute to our well-being because those things are in our control and release endorphins and other helpful chemicals in our brain.
Suggestion #2: Review Your Own Rhythm and Rituals
COVID has upset many of our routines whether it was commuting to work, being at our job with colleagues, having set hours for work, or enjoying the social engagement that comes with being with our teams. Now we are engaged remotely and even more challenging, many parents are involved with home schooling while trying to fulfill their other day to day responsibilities.  Our brains find it far less taxing when there are predictable patterns to follow. Disruption to our routines accompanied by so many unknowns puts our mental process in a precarious place.
Being many months into this pandemic, we have likely found alternative rhythms and rituals.  This is an excellent time to ask ourselves if those alternatives are serving us, or if change is needed.  For example, exercise will work off some of the stress and help offset sitting at your computer all day. In another example, the simple practice of naming three gratitudes each morning helps start the day with a positive mindset. What routines or practices would help you continue to evolve a healthy rhythm?
Suggestion #3: Focus on What Needs to Get Done Now
During times of great uncertainty it is near impossible to see very far out. Keep the focus on today, this week, this month and what needs to get done in the near term.  Identify the top three priorities whether at home or work. What is it we need to do or get done today or this week? This is the time for one-week sprints for you as well as your team. Accomplishing these results will give people a sense of control as well as satisfaction. Where you can, simplify the list and keep it short. This will lessen the likelihood people feel overwhelmed.
Suggestion #4: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
When there is great uncertainty, sharing what is known can help lessen the anxiety.  Regular updates help people feel like they have access to the information that is available. Some teams find daily huddles to be instructive while others find weekly team meetings to be grounding. Developing more creative ways to engage and share information will minimize the likelihood the communication processes become less effective over time.
Suggestion #5: Respect and Appreciate Alternative Views
Lastly, to help us all move forward, put a focus on respecting and appreciating views different from our own. As leaders we need to create an inclusive environment. Despite a divisive backdrop we want to have our teams adopt openness as a norm. When people have such contrasting views it is helpful to be curious.  Seek to understand.  We do not need to agree with every view on the team, but we do need to create the physiological safety where people are free to share them.  The future is going to need a heavy dose of innovation; we will not get there with closed mindsets. Practicing this openness today with questions and curiosity will help model the behavior we would like to see become the norm.

Proposed Next Steps 
Decide what message you want to share in these next few days. Be prepared for the different scenarios. Be ready to share a message that helps people work through whatever we encounter. We want our leaders to be visible and reassuring during turbulent times. You don’t want to be seen as missing in action.

Set up a meeting for Wednesday or Thursday and check in with people to see how they are doing. This may be one way to take the anxiety down a notch. Or, in your one on one meetings this week, use a coaching approach to check in. There is no need to talk about the political outcome. Help yourself as well as others work through the challenges of this high stakes moment we are all living through.
Be the leader we need at these times.