It has been 18 months since the pandemic really took hold here in Canada. One can argue that so much – and so little – has changed in these past 18 months. Was it just last year that the sidewalks in my neighbourhood were full of chalk drawings telling people to “stay strong” and “we’re in this together”? In those days, children posted jokes on trees to lift people’s spirits and lawns sprouted signs praising our health care workers. Now – save for a few weather-worn lawn signs – these words of encouragement have passed. Instead, we see protests against pandemic protocols, harassment of health care workers and threats of violence against those charged with upholding Covid safety measures. How sweet the words, “stay strong”, sound now. How idyllic those early days of Covid seem now, despite the fear and confusion that accompanied our first lockdown. After 18 months of Covid, I wonder: Who are we now? Do we like who we have become?
It isn’t only Covid of course. Some workplaces are reeling with divisions related to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI); some are polarized over their leadership; still others are wrestling with their vision. Of course, not all workplaces are struggling. But it remains the case that collectively, our capacity to speak with those with whom we disagree is becoming weaker and weaker. One leader recently told me, “When people speak now, they immediately go to the extremes; they no longer moderate what they say, and it seems they speak for effect rather than speaking and listening to seek understanding.” Another shared, “Everyone is looking for someone to blame, someone on whom they can pin responsibility for all that has gone wrong. But nobody wants to look at themselves.”
If you are discouraged by the tenor and tone of our public conversations, you are not alone. It is worrisome. Who are we now? It seems that as a society we have become nastier, edgier, less patient with one another, more anxious and more limited in our capacity to bridge our differences. Collectively, we are not well. Naturally, it isn’t all bad news. There are many who keep leaning into goodness, generosity, and grace, even in the face of harassment. Even so… just a cursory read of the evening news or even a brief conversation with those navigating leadership roles in polarized workplaces tells us how stressed and stretched we are.
With so much unease in the air, so much tension, and so many unknowns, we are exhausted and anxious. In the midst of polarized conversations, where do we find hope? My proposal that a first step involves creating inner space to acknowledge our frustration, to grieve and to weep.
Some years ago, I was coaching a frustrated leader who asked me how she could be less frustrated at work. My reply was counter intuitive to her. I said to her: “Between now and when we meet again, give yourself permission to be frustrated. Whenever you feel frustrated, tell yourself: ‘It is ok to be frustrated.’” “That’s it?” she asked, confused. “That’s it for now,” I replied. A few weeks later we met again. She began immediately: “Why did this work? Why am I not frustrated anymore?”
We know that with respect to our feelings, what we resist we entrench. When we resist our frustration, our exhaustion and our anxiety related to all that we are dealing with, we entrench these feelings. When we accept our feelings, they lose their power over us. Ironically, it is when we accept our feelings of frustration, that our frustration begins to dissipate. Or, it is when we accept our feelings that we feel powerless over this virus and the restrictions it imposes, that our feelings of powerlessness dissipate. But there is more: It is when we recognise the feelings we are having, accept that our feelings are ours and are real, that we can start to do something positive with them. In other words, we do not need to be whipped to and fro by feelings that cause us to lash out or do harm. Of course, this is not a magic solution. We will tip over into unbridled frustration. Nonetheless, when we accept our frustration, we can join forces with those who engage with goodness, generosity, and grace, even in the midst of tough and polarizing conversations, allowing us to find our footing and our way forward once more.
Credence offers a variety of services that deepen the capacity to lead in challenging situations:
- Leadership Coaching
- Transforming Polarized Thinking
Let us work with you to customize your learning path. We can offer advice as you determine your best next step.