Okay, we’ve seen the worst of wave one of COVID (well, most of us have).
But wait. Why are people so stressed? Snappy? Unhappy?
Shouldn’t we all feel grateful to have some calm in the storm?
Welcome to the Messy Middle.
Why Aren’t Things Better?
I’ve worked with a lot of teams over my 20 years in organizational development, and every single team holds onto hope for what “this is all over”. The tricky thing is, it’s not.
Not only is COVID not over, all the other changes you were dealing with in your organization are not over. Your personal stressors are not over. The bad habits and challenging balancing act and gaps in our wellness routine that were with us before COVID are all the more visible as soon as we get a chance to breathe.
Just ask any middle child; it’s not easy being caught in the middle. Our actual middle is between ‘waves’ of COVID. And, our metaphorical middle is between the strain of COVID and whatever the “next normal” looks like.
Dealing with How it Really Is
For a while, everyone can pitch in. When a crisis or major change is before us, that’s when teams are at their best. That’s when corporations throw kudos and compliments and communication people’s way. That’s when people feel a sense of meaning and contribution.
As soon as we stop to take a breath, along with the exhaustion, the crisis or change has lowered the waterline enough to have revealed the cracks. Some cracks were always there. Some cracks we see for the first time from the juxtaposition of our current reality compared to the adrenaline and task-filled change period.
Instead of circling down the drain of despair, asking all the wrong questions that will get you further stuck, you can flip this frustration and possibly feelings of failure for not bouncing back from this by changing the narrative (for a great resource check out this resource for an awesome formula for ACCUSE versus ACCEPT failure from The Flipside of Failing: How to Recognize and Leverage Greatness in Work and Life The ultimate question I’m borrowing from the speaking industry: your mess is your message.
How ACCEPTing Mess Makes It Less Messy
If your mess is your message, what can you share that you’ve learned – about yourself, the organization, your team? How can you share what life has been like for you? How can you acknowledge the cracks (the corporate elephant in the room everyone knows is there but it’s unpopular to actually name it).
Accepting where you’re at, right in the muck and mess of uncertainty and the remnants of change is exactly where emotionally you’d expect to be. We just have to give permission for our brain to be confused by it all. We’re okay with being unsure when other things are unsure; clarity isn’t clean like that. No matter how much we hope and wish it to be.
ROCKing Your Mess
There are a number of ROCK leadership behaviours you can leverage while you’re in this messy middle. In fact, you might be in the best position to do it now when you’ve had a chance to breathe and prepare for what lies ahead:
The number one thing that I can recommend you do while still in the mess is the first part of ROCKSTAR – recognize. As you’re starting to navigate your way through this time, the more you and others can redouble your recognition efforts, the more you’ll be able to lean on each other support and wade through the muck together.
The messy middle is when people need to feel valued, heard, and appreciated and yet it’s often when we put the brakes on recognition. However, the more you can practice recognition now, the more you build a recognition habit for the next challenging time. (For more on forming a recognition habit visit here.)
Number two, this is your time for continuous improvement. This is when everybody’s thinking about all the things that haven’t worked well, so rather than circle the drain on complaining, get to work collectively to put in micro fixes. People may be tired, but they’re likely still motivated to make sure that it doesn’t stay broken for long; they want to come into the next wave or change having learned from it.
The alternative is putting up with an inefficient status quo. The cracks have revealed themselves. You can’t unsee what have become obvious issues that need to be fixed.
I am seeing folks back off from the communication efforts. Reduce the updates. Even if there’s not as much to say, people still want and need to hear what’s going on. This may be the time to share what you’ve learned, what you’re thinking is next, what you are excited or nervous about. Now is the time to have short powerful conversations (and for ROCKSTAR conversation starters visit us here). It’s not communicating for the sake of communicating; it’s keeping the lines of communication open for the next wave of change nipping at our heels.
Have you found people are pretty snappy lately? It’s almost like we’ve all come to the end of our rope, we’re clean out of patience, and all the strain of what’s come before and what may still come yet are surfacing.
It is time to take a collective breath. We need to do things that bring is joy and encourage others to do the same. To practice wellness from healthy eating to staying hydrated to new workout routines. Visit friends at a safe social distance. Find alternatives if you haven’t already to things you enjoy like yoga and dance and painting. It might not be the same as before, however it can be a kind substitute. The more kindness you show to yourself, the kinder you will be to others.
You know how if you’re light-headed they say bend over and put your head between your knees (I hope that’s still the thing to do as I tell my kids to do that!) Well, the messy middle you can literally and metaphorically put your head between your knees, take a deep breath and pause. No one could have predicted this would last almost six months. And we don’t truly know what’s coming. The calm before the (next) storm doesn’t feel so calm, so I hope you’ve found some value in this article.
Need more help? Besides going back and checking out some related posts we’ve listed below, you’re welcome to reach out to me directly. Let’s take a breath together.
- Finding Meaning and Contribution During COVID
- ROCK as a Leader: How to Thrive Through Change and Crisis
- Rock as a Leader to Get STAR Results
PS. – Oh, and cool news. We’ve received such a great response to ROCKSTAR from other industries, another version is already in the works. Can you take a guess which one? Comment below!