One of my close friends has two degrees, 25 years of hands-on experience in marketing, her own (extremely successful) business and she regularly speaks at conferences and events. BUT last week, over dinner, she confided that she has little confidence in her ability. It had to be a joke and I almost laughed out loud. Until I saw her face.
She went on to admit that she finds it difficult to focus on a glorious future when, because of the pandemic and the knock-on financial and social implications, life seems significantly more wobbly. And, in turn, her proficiency in dealing with everyday situations, especially the sticky ones, has diminished.
This isn’t an unusual reaction. On the Untapped.ai platform, we have noticed CEOs with decades of experience under their belt claiming they have less self-assurance these days, while others reveal they are more anxious and apathetic. Plus, numerous studies have cited increases in a variety of mental health issues: OCD, social anxiety, fear, loneliness, agoraphobia... the list goes on. Steven Taylor, a professor in psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and author of The Psychology of Pandemics says, “For an unfortunate minority of people, perhaps 10 to 15%, life will not return to normal.”
And rather than acknowledge what is going on, workers are often burying themselves in the to-do list in an attempt to push away these feelings. Consequently, burnout then steps into the picture, bringing difficult complications with it. Dr Leah Weiss, a social work therapist and teacher at Stanford University in California, claims, “The more anxious we get, we throw ourselves into work and start to neglect the other components of our life. Plus there can be a lot of cynicism... feeling like you can’t make any changes in your environment.”
Because of the pandemic’s global scale and its disturbing effect on humankind, high levels of uncertainty can result in mass negativity. For people to invest their efforts in the potential of better times, they need to believe it will be worth it and trust that change can make a positive difference. This can be a tough call when something as humongous as a pandemic is going on and our control over the situation is limited.
In our work organisations, the same feelings of being incapacitated can play out, especially in certain hierarchical cultures. If workers are not given the responsibility to instigate an alternative approach, they will feel blocked at the starting post and will be more likely to give up. There is nothing more disabling than feeling stuck in the quagmire of inertia.
At Untapped.ai, we often speak to our clients about the difference they can make to a situation; not only to have ownership of change but also to feel empowered by the influence their part has played in creating a new way of behaving or thinking. And in critical situations when uncertainty, risk, panic, or overwhelm occurs, it’s important to remember that even the slightest transformation can still have a crucial impact. Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist who wrote a book in the early 1970s called Steps to an Ecology of Mind talked about a difference that makes a difference. It’s helpful to remember that your involvement, however slight is one more step towards positive overall change, and once the person starts to recognise the benefit of pushing forward, the desire to keep going increases.
A few days after our dinner date, I called my friend to see how she was feeling. Things seemed to be taking a brighter turn. She’d recently been in a team meeting where she’d witnessed the closing down of an important conversation by one of the spikier members of her staff. She paused the meeting, stating that she wanted to hear more before moving on, and emphasised the value of listening carefully to each other. “Just recognising the feelings around my own lack of confidence, and actually saying it out loud to you the other day, was so helpful,” she told me, “Simply acknowledging I had a problem felt like the beginning of actually doing something about it.” A truly confident statement indeed.