Have you noticed lately that you get disproportionately strong emotional reactions to things to which you would usually react more moderately? Do you get frustrated easily? Do your moods vary? The emotional landmines of a pandemic that began a year ago in the spring, have exploded in the workplace since the autumn. The term explains the phenomenon, perceived by many of us since last autumn, in which strong emotions and emotional reactions occur for no apparent reason.
Last spring, we were all affected collectively by a crisis called Covid-19. Because of this surprising, unprecedented situation, many of us had to suppress the strongest emotions simply in order to survive and to provide support and comfort for ourselves, our clients, our loved ones. There was no room for panic, although the future without horizon was a frightening one. We were able to endure spring and summer, and the beginning of summer even showed a global glimmer of hope: in the autumn we will probably return to normal.. Or so we thought.
The continued uncertainty and Covid still around evokes in us a wide range of emotions and pandemic emotional landmines may manifest in different ways in teams, communities, organizations – in human interactions.
Over the past year, the sense of control has weakened – as a global, all encompassing phenomenon. A stressed mind exacerbates a situation when we interpret things or others’ comments in our minds even more negatively than what the reality really is. With the pandemic, our operating environment has been loaded in a whole new way, and it is no wonder that many of us involuntarily step into our own and others’ emotional landmines. People experience frustration, boredom, fear, even anger at the prevailing uncertainty and unknown future. This is reflected in us being over-tuned: we interpret each other and our sayings over critically, we are more sensitive, we experience injustice, we take things personally more than before – in general, our tolerance threshold is clearly lowered and even small things often seem overwhelming.
So what’s the solution? The solution is simple, but sometimes so difficult: emotions are dealt with by experiencing them.
The first step is to become aware of the existence of emotional landmines and how they affect us. The next step is to accept those feelings. This is not to say that strong emotions justify bad behavior – on the contrary.
Through the following exercise, you will have the opportunity to deal with your own challenging feelings that the pandemic has caused when everyday life has changed and we are inadvertently in a situation where uncertainty is present and our own influence is weak:
Exercise: Pandemic emotions (for everyone)
Please use the picture below to help you to name the emotions.
- What are the most common (TOP 3 – 5) emotions of the year or the beginning of the year in my own work?
- What things or situations are these emotions related to?
- How do these emotions affect me?
Many may wonder then, how exactly could these experiences and feelings be discussed at work with a colleague and the whole team? Emotions can be talked about in working life just like any other thing – matter-of factly and without making it a bigger issue. Emotions are one of the facts of working life.
Emotions do not disappear even if they are not talked about, and their effects do not disappear anywhere.
It is a great relief for many employees to notice that they are not alone with their own feelings; others experience similar feelings. What it is like to be a human being at work. It is possible to talk about emotions as one of the things related to work – just like other things that happen in the workplace are talked about in everyday life. Here’s how to discuss these emotional experiences and different emotional landmines that were brought by the pandemic, in your own workplace.
Exercise: Pandemic emotional landmines (to be implemented in teams):
- Individual reflection 5min, 2. Discussion in small groups (3 people) 10min, 3. Going through the observations together (15 – 30 min)
- What are the most common (TOP 3 – 5) emotions of the year or the beginning of the year in my work ?
- What things or situations are these emotions related to?
- How do these emotions affect me / us?
- What can I / we learn from this?
Many times we try to manage different situations by keeping our feelings and thoughts hidden. Often this is of course correct but it also has its price. When you try to disguise your feelings; your colleagues and clients will sense it and will get mixed messages. Would they believe what you say, or would they believe your tone of voice and your body language?
Self-disclosure is a constructive way to speak out about emotional experiences. It means, in all its simplicity, that you are telling something about how you feel and what you are thinking. Instead of hiding yourself, you tell something about your own dreams, hopes, fears, and especially about your own feelings. You reveal something about your own inner world. With this you, as a person, will become closer with your listeners. In general, employees are usually interested in the stories, experiences, and emotional states of their supervisors. And especially in this time, people expect authenticity from their superiors, including sharing their own awkward experiences and thereby building genuine hope and trust with them.
Remember, none of us can always deal with emotional landmines so that the end result is exactly what we hoped for. In the case of emotional skills, we rarely get a ‘perfect’ performance, and this is not the goal anyway. Authenticity, honesty, and goodwill — also for yourself — often go a long way. It is important to remember that it is enough to succeed sometimes. Start by being kind to yourself. This creates a great base for being more empathetic towards others.