Tips for managing relationships during a crisis

At the best of times, managing relationships (whether it is with a partner, kids, family, friends, colleagues or managers) is a difficult and demanding process. After all, understanding and dealing with people’s emotions during the ups and downs of life has to be one of the hardest things to master.

If you then add to this already complex equation the anxiety, stress and fear from the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and from the measures governments are putting in place to reduce the spread of the virus, you have a recipe for disaster and a ticking time bomb.

Working from home in confined spaces, social distancing, home schooling, supply shortage, and the health, financial and social uncertainties are bringing new challenges and putting even the most solid relationships to the test.

So how can your employees best manage their relationships during these difficult times?

As claustrophobia and “cabin fever” settle in with many of your employees working from home, it is important to take some proactive measures and support them through this transition. Here are a few tips they can implement:

 

Re-balance your relationships

Spending 24/7 with your loved ones may sound like a dream come true. But in reality, relationships thrive on the balance of spending time together and spending time apart. As this balance has no doubt been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic it is important to make some adjustments to ensure there is a healthy amount of both. For example, if you are now working from home and not in a normal office environment, you may want to increase the time spent on the phone or video conference with your colleagues or managers. Picking up the phone just to check in daily with different colleagues is a great way to stay connected. On the other hand, as you spend more time with your partner and/or kids at home, you may need to carve out some alone time. It is important to create some separate spaces and communicate clearly with the other party when you need more time alone (and in return respect their request for the same).

 

Don’t neglect your broader relationships and stay connected

This advice may seem counter intuitive when we are being asked to “stay at home”. But in today’s connected world, it has never been easier to stay in touch with others without the physical proximity. Simply calling someone from your extended network will help recreate that sense of community and connectedness which is crucial for your emotional wellbeing. While it may feel inevitable to talk about the Coronavirus, try and find different topics to discuss as well to avoid generating more anxiety.

Importantly kids and teenagers, especially the ones that are now home schooled, will also need to stay in touch with their friends and it is important to respect this desire and be more lenient with the use of technology. We are all social beings.

Connecting with others outside of your household will also have the added benefit of sharing the amount of “venting” you naturally do with your partner and kids and therefore create better quality times at home.

And who knows, it could even be a good opportunity to reconnect with people that you may not have been in contact with for a while.

 

Create your new reality using routines

When dealing with so much change and in such a short period of time, it is important to adapt to the new situation. One of the best ways to do so is by creating routines for yourself, your colleagues and your family. Our human brain works best when we are in control and know what is coming – it craves structure and certainty. So why not establish some simple recurring activities and tasks that may also connect you with others – planning meal times, having a 10 minute morning kick off meeting with colleagues, setting up clear start and stop time for work, having some exercise time or “play time” set aside with your loved ones.

 

Aim for the 5:1 ratio

Researcher Jon Gottam studied relationships for over 4 decades and discovered the “magic” ratio of 5:1 – that is the numbers of positive feelings and interactions vs. negative ones needed in our emotional bank account to have stable and happy relationships. Here is a short video clip that explains more about this concept.

 

Practice empathy, gratitude and kindness

Although it is normal to feel anxious, frustrated and tired, we must recognise that we are all “in it together”. Colleagues may be more on edge, managers may be under more pressure and less available, partners may be less patient and moodier, and kids may be playing up more due to the amount of change they’re dealing with – all these are expected reactions. Try not to read too much into it or take it to heart. Simply use empathy and communicate openly and genuinely with others and don’t try to be a mind reader. You will find that most of the time, active listening is the only thing required to improve the situation.

Also, keep yourself in check if you feel like blaming or criticising others. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that everyone is doing their best to adjust and cope with these unprecedented times.

Finally, gratitude is another powerful habit to establish to reduce possible tensions. Either in the morning at breakfast time or in the evening before going to bed, it is a great practice to ask every member of the household “what are the 2 or 3 things they are grateful for today?”. It will help everyone focus on the positive and put things in perspective. Try to listen to the kids as they are often a lot better than adults at the “gratitude game”.

 

Lighten the mood

Over the last few weeks, we have all dealt with quite a “heavy”, serious and unknown situation – a pandemic. For most, it has been a lot of negatives, with only a small amount of positives. To help your relationships keep flourishing, try to lighten the mood when appropriate. With colleagues, it could be as simple as telling a joke or sharing a funny meme or picture. With your family, it could be watching a good comedy or playing the kids’ favourite board game. It is said that humour is healing and laughter soothes the nerves.  It is also a great coping mechanism – and it’s free!

 

Plan Together Openly

Open communication is one of the key pillars of healthy relationships – and it is no different in time of crisis. It is important to talk and regularly align points of view and decisions both in personal and professional relationships. For example, you may have planned and agreed with your partner that you will be doing some of the morning home schooling and will only be able to start work at 9.30am while your partner will take care of the afternoon shift. In turn, you will need to align this decision and communicate it accordingly with managers and colleagues so that everyone is clear on expectations. In a similar fashion, speaking with your kids about their responsibilities while being home schooled will go a long way. It is crucial to tackle some of the key questions around logistics and your new working arrangements to create some certainty. It will not only bring you closer with your relationships but will also help make life feel more “normal” and reduce the anxiety driven by the unknown.

Although everyone will be affected and will respond differently to the current pandemic and although there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach, we are confident that implementing some of the above tips will help create the basis for strong and healthy relationships at home and at work. Now is the time to act with love and kindness.

Finally, in a previous article, we also provided a few tips about looking after yourself during uncertain times. You may want to also read this resource as these tips are also relevant in the context of relationships. After all healthy relationships can only flourish from a healthy self.

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