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Tom Forrest

Senior Consultant

I recently experienced the life-changing event of our first child.

My wife and I felt relatively well prepared for this, attending a pre-natal course and reading a small library of baby books, as well as receiving a massive supply of advice and supplies to help smooth the new arrival.

Like just about everything over the past year, our best laid plans fell flat and just about nothing about the birth or following weeks went to plan.

Dislocated from family and friends through geography and COVID-19 restrictions, we missed their wisdom and practical first-hand help, and we had the feeling that we were getting everything wrong. Minor situations felt much larger and more important than they should, and we over scrutinised our every action. Inevitably this made us feel unhappy and overwhelmed.

However, help was at hand. As people became aware of our predicament, friends and family rallied round. We received messages of support and relief parcels containing baby products and chocolate, but best of all we received reassurance.

My mother in-law is the best purveyor of reassurance. Along with her practical advice she always ends every call to us with the words “You are doing so well”, or “Don’t worry, you are doing a great job.”

Reassurance is of course, the thing that humans always need. Whether young or old, whether a grizzled veteran or a new recruit, we all need some words of encouragement. This has become more  important than ever in times of change and uncertainty where our lives can sometimes feel like an ongoing emergency.

From a work perspective, we regularly question our value and impact, agonising over our failures and minimising our successes. Even when business is good, a sense of insecurity is never far away.

In a normal work environment, regular face to face contact allows our colleagues to more easily recognise when we need support. Recently however, the seismic changes have forced us to look inward as we scramble to adjust to the new. This introspection has not only left us to question ourselves more often but has also led to a disconnection from our colleagues. The feelings of isolation have been magnified by remote working. My colleague, Tiara Sanders, explores this and offers some tips on managing your own mental health in her latest blog.

As we can impact on our own mental wellbeing, we can also affect the wellbeing of others. Remembering that your colleagues are beset by the same nagging sense of doubt as you is a great motivation to offer them some words of reassurance. We don’t need to overthink this, as even seemingly unoriginal words or gestures can make a big difference. It is important however, to steer away from flattery, which is lying for our own advantage.

The great thing about reassurance is that it does not take any preparation or deep thought. In fact, it is often the most banal of sentences which can provide the best sustenance rather than something rehearsed. A simple line at the end of an email, or a kind word on a call, whether one to one or in a group can make a big difference to the way someone feels.

My personal experience is an example of going through the change curve. Our Arcadia Mindset Advantage Paper describes how leaders should use these lessons to best to redress the void, characterised by uncertainty. Recovery is best started with care and reassurance and leaders need to understand that when handling their people through these difficult times. To quote the paper:

“Leaders don’t always know the answers either so they must lead with care, giving and building trust through intimacy, reliability and selflessness rather than credibility.

Intimacy demands knowing how the change is affecting people’s personal experiences (home, kids, family, social life etc.) and being interested in their world.

Reliability means delivering on promises, on time and being a responsive servant leader. During change, ambiguity and ‘not knowing’ adds to the fear. Not responding to emails, voice messages makes this worse. Respond even if it’s with an ‘I don’t know’. Selflessness means giving  (time, energy, attention, resources, development, information, recognition, support, care) rather than taking (immediate performance, task completion,  requesting time, energy and resources!).

Leaders need to adopt a giving style to reciprocity. As per the ‘Give and Take’ book by Adam Grant, focus on giving value to others without expectation of receiving or taking of equal value.”

With that mind I just wanted to say although it has been a tough year, keep going, I think you are going to be fine.

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