Can the coronavirus connect us?

Leanne Buehler, Ph.D., Principal Science and Innovation AdvisorEmployee Engagement, Leadership3 Comments

As COVID-19 continues to spread there is a palatable sense of uncertainty, disbelief and anxiety. As an external consultant, it has been fascinating for me to connect with clients across many diverse industries and discuss the difficult decisions their organizations are currently facing. The complexity is mind boggling.  Should we let students come home from spring break? Cancel a conference or community event? Continue to hire? Close taprooms, restaurants, or hotels—even if that means employees won’t get a paycheck? Stop or ramp up production, buy more supplies or cancel contracts? Train healthcare professionals in procedures outside of their specialties?

While the organizational and business implications are fascinating, what I have been struck most by is how much the coronavirus conversation has changed the nature of business meetings. Rather than getting down to the agenda of the business at hand, I am noticing that people are taking time to connect on a personal level.  I have learned more about the lives of my clients in the last week than I have after years of relationships.

When I’ve asked people about how they are being affected by the coronavirus, I’m hearing stories such as:

  • The struggles of working parents without childcare
  • The need to change plans to visit Mt. Everest
  • How to safely care for a sick child who needs regular medical treatment
  • Children who are being made fun of at school because of rumors that they have the virus
  • Being separated from elderly or sick family members due to travel bans

These real and intimate stories have sparked two reactions in me. For one, I find it refreshing and energizing to connect with people on a genuinely human level. The personal worlds of my business colleagues are rich, emotional, and complex. Hearing about “outside-of-work” challenges and being able to share mine leads to connection, empathy and compassion.

My second reaction is – why does it take a crisis for us to have these conversations?  Why do we need a pandemic to have perspective, inquire and listen to one another, and take the time to care about one another as humans?

My sisters and I have been sharing in a gratitude practice for the last six months. Each day we text each other and share: 1. something we savored (e.g., the laugh of a child, the beauty of a snowflake, or the renewal of silence); 2) a way in which we offered kindness to another (e.g., offering a word of comfort, checking in on a friend, bringing someone a coffee); and 3) something for which we are grateful (e.g., help from a partner, warm blankets, or the chance to learn something new).

Beyond the benefits of a gratitude practice, what has been most impactful to me over these months of sharing is that through these brief texts I get a glimpse into the lives of my sisters. I gain insight into the daily things that bring them joy, the challenges they struggle with, and the beauty in their lives. Simple. Real. Meaningful.

I see the coronavirus conversations in a similar way. We are all connecting during an uncertain time, and in doing so, we open up and share who we are as people. It’s a beautiful thing and one that I hope carries us forward with deeper connections long after we are past the illness and loss, the travel bans, the social distancing and quarantines. It’s a reminder that while we show up at work as professionals, employees, and leaders, we are so much more than that…we are humans, all having human experiences—and there is so much joy and power in that common ground.

  • Judy says:

    Leanne, Very well said and thought provoking how a national crisis can bring us together on a personal level. I’ve been thinking, but have not said out loud…Did we need a pandemic to stop the craziness? Our country and world had gotten so divided. Is this a wake-up call? Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You make a difference in our world.
    I also love your gratitude project with your sisters.

  • Baadrea Bagley says:

    Thank you Leanne! This is beautifully written. We are all in need of some positive messaging and to be reminded of what’s most important right now – relationships. We will get through the toughest of times the best when we are doing it together. I love how you take it to a deeper level with your customers and the gratitude practice you use with your sister. Thank you for sharing and making a difference for the rest of us!

  • Darrell says:

    What a timely, accurate and authentic post Leanne! Way to pull out the positives from a season filled with negatives. I am encouraged by your stories and perspectives and it proves to me that I need to say in the light and not let ‘The Dark Side’ win the day.