How to start every meeting during this crisis

Anxiety around the world is ramping up to never-before-seen levels. That’s why you need to use the time you have in meetings with your team and with your customers to allay their fears and give them a judgment-free space where they can express themselves. In other words, start every meeting and call with a personal update section

Yes, every meeting and every call.

This is true whether you’re talking with a prospect, a customer, a colleague, your boss, or your employees.

This isn’t just fluff or pretending to care because it’s what you’re supposed to do.

This kind of communication is crucial during a crisis for three reasons:

  • It gives context to people’s words and actions
  • It allows you to understand their capacity and output throughout this crisis
  • It puts you in the right position to give the people around you the support they need

Let me explain how we made this shift in communication at Close, and how we’ve benefited from it.

We made 2 major changes in the way we communicate here at Close

I’m going to be honest: I’m not a fan of small talk. I love meetings to be short and focused, and until now our meetings at Close have always been straight to the point.

But we’re living in different times. That’s why you need to add questions like these to every call:

  • How are you doing right now?
  • What’s your anxiety level?
  • What are your current worries about friends, family, or the world?
  • What’s changed since the last time we talked?

These questions are must-haves in this kind of environment.

Remember that the world situation is changing daily (or even hourly). That means the people around you are in a constant state of change. If someone tells you today that they’re fine and not worried, by Monday that might be a completely different story. "The key to treating burnout is to catch it as early as possible. Listen and look out carefully for early signs of the three symptoms (fatigue, negativity and ineffectiveness).", said Will Mersh from Spill, a startup that's helping businesses to address mental health amongst their employees

The key to treating burnout is to catch it as early as possible. Listen and look out carefully for early signs of the three symptoms (fatigue, negativity and ineffectiveness).

Here are two ways we’ve changed our communication norms at Close to better adapt to this situation:

1. Adding the personal update section

All our meetings now begin with a personal update section. When the different teams gather together to discuss work, they start by talking about how each of them is doing personally. This comes before we talk about work updates and company issues.

For example, when I meet with our leadership team, each one gives their own personal update. That means I’m able to see how each person is doing, offer a listening ear, and provide necessary support during this difficult time.

2. Encouraging regular check-ins

I’ve asked everyone in the company to connect with each other more frequently to see how we’re all doing.

When someone is struggling, you may not notice it from the outside. And quite frankly, you can’t expect them to reach out for help when they need it. In fact, when someone on your team is struggling, they’re more likely to retreat into themselves than come to you for help.

Add to that the fact that many teams are suddenly working from home, and you’re flying blind. You can’t see how your people are handling the situation, and you can’t provide them with the support they need.

So, check-in on people more frequently and more practically than you normally would. If you’re a manager or a CEO, it’s your job to encourage these check-ins with your team. However, every single employee of every single company can take this advice to heart and check in more frequently to see how their coworkers are coping.

With these two changes, we’ve seen four significant benefits that you’ll definitely want for your team.

4 reasons you should make the same changes

1. It’s a bonding experience

When you start each meeting talking about individual personal updates, your team is bonding.

Doing this allows us to understand each other better and humanize each other.

For example, if someone on the team is going through an especially stressful experience due to this global pandemic, you’ll better understand why they’re slower than usual responding to messages or they were short with you on the phone.

When we bond through sharing personal updates, we see that everyone on the team is human, and we’re all in this together.

2. It allows people to verbalize their internal pressures and worries

This in itself is a huge reliever of stress and helps you win the emotional war. By providing a judgment-free space to express concerns, you give your team the opportunity to relieve some of the pressure that has built up in their lives over the past few weeks.

3. It allows people to see they’re not alone in their worries

Many times, we feel that we’re alone in our situation and that no one understands us. However, that is almost always a false assumption.

For example, speaking with the leaders at Close, I discovered we all have similar worries. Although we aren’t as worried about ourselves or our immediate family, many of us are worried about our parents, our grandparents, or other extended family and friends that may be unprepared or in a higher risk group. We didn’t realize this was a common concern on the team until we talked about it together.

By sharing our personal updates, we found strength in a shared concern and felt more camaraderie with the team.

4. It sets the foundation to talk about work in a place that’s more stable, calm, and focused

Don’t sit there and pretend that the world is normal and everything is business-as-usual.

By starting our meetings with a personal update, we’ve acknowledged that we’re not fine, but we’re in this together.

Work is not a bubble that’s completely disconnected from what’s going on outside or in our personal lives. The world and our personal situation are impacting us more than ever, and it will impact our work. That’s why talking these things out beforehand actually helps our team focus more on the work at hand.

This is my advice to CEOs, managers, and teammates: Sync up, catch up, connect with others before you talk about work.

When we take the time to care about each other, we make the world a better place (even in a crisis).

Are you facing specific challenges during the COVID-19 crisis? Send us your main concerns now, and we’ll be happy to provide you with guidance and direction during this difficult time.

You are not alone.

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