Conversations in Trying Times

June 03, 2020
BBH Partner Kathryn George and BBH Senior Advisor Ellen Perry share a few steps you can take to manage through these trying times and support peers, family and friends.

As our community grapples with the turmoil and anguish of recent events, many are feeling an unprecedented level of anxiety and helplessness at home and in their work. Parents hear their adult, and young adult, children express outrage and fear in ways they have not heard before. Business owners are hearing some employees speak out about the racism they encounter and the burden they feel to educate their colleagues while hearing from other employees that they want to do something to help, but don’t know what. All this is happening under the pre-existing burden of the pandemic. Our families and our businesses are facing a combination of extreme social unrest and a global health crisis, and the playbook for what to say or do is perhaps not clear. Nonetheless, we believe there are a few steps you can take to manage through this crisis, support each other and keep relationships intact.

  • The most important thing we can do now is have the conversation. Talk about what is going on at the dinner table and in team meetings. Be vulnerable and share your own feelings and uncertainty. Welcome and encourage others’ views and perspectives. You may feel uncomfortable having a discussion about race, as many of us are – the important thing is to try.  
  • These are unprecedented times; it is not business as usual. Give employees and family members the benefit of the doubt.
  • Seek to listen more than you speak. Your adult children and co-workers are experiencing this time in ways that may be very different than how you are. Particularly for children, their lives have been disrupted and halted. Their futures are uncertain. Listen to them. Learn from them.
  • Remember how much you wanted to be respected for your ideas by your parents when you were young. Give your kids that gift.
  • The rising generations may have a more diverse set of friends and view of the world than you. Maybe you are always the one managing and teaching; take this as an opportunity to listen and learn. Your closest friends may see this very differently than you do. Your extended family members may make comments that ignite visceral reactions in you or your children. The important part – the only part, really – is that you convene these conversations and show up with humility, respect and love. Period.
  • It is tempting to use this moment to make strong definitive statements about your values to those around you. Be careful. Most of us are just doing our best to muddle our way through this very tricky time. Be thoughtful with your words. Be open to change.
  • Reach out to your friends and colleagues to have supportive conversations and seek to understand their experiences. Leave space and silence for contributions from every member of the family and team; open one-on-one lines of communication so that those who are uncomfortable speaking in groups can contribute as well.

We are experiencing events and emotions around health fears, economic anxiety and now social upheaval that are unlike anything any of us have ever confronted. Managing our way through this will take grace, humility and kindness – to ourselves and others. Be generous and take care of each other.

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