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We’re seeing a shift in how we structure our relationships. Here’s what you need to know.

The pandemic holds critical lessons for all of us. Whether we belong to an organization, a particular team, or a family (in most cases we’d belong to all of the above) – uncertainty in our external environments requires us to look inward for clarity and security. During this period, it can be especially challenging to navigate the different roles we play in our lives. We play multiple roles and responsibilities, from the CEO to the mother, the Team Leader to the joker, the devil’s advocate to the nurturer. We might experience role conflict, role fatigue or nausea, we might simply throw our hands in the air and want to completely do away with irrelevant roles, or we might even want to create new roles to fulfil the evolving needs of our relationship systems. With work-from-home orders being a mainstay for the past few months, we see the blurring of lines between roles. With our personal and business relationship systems all bundled into one space, we experience the discomfort and unfamiliarity of having to straddle divergent roles at the same time. So, what are some of the things we need to know about roles so that we can work with them better? 1. Roles are Not Personal; They Belong to the System Working from home, we get more conscious of our system’s needs. Naturally, we also get more conscious of the person who fills these different roles. We might be tempted to attribute a particular role to someone’s inherent character. But that might not be the best thing to do, because roles are created by the system to help it function. That one person in your team who seems to bog down the entire team’s progress by asking questions on timeline, details, limitations – they may not necessarily be structured as individuals; they have simply organized themselves (consciously or unconsciously) to meet your team’s need for a framework. That one person in your household who takes out the trash consistently doesn’t do it necessarily because they are cleanliness freaks – they are fulfilling a function in your household. It is natural to want to make roles personal to supplement the limitations in our understanding of the relationships we are in, especially during this period. More often than not, however, this might serve to muddy our understanding instead. 2. Relationship Systems Have Emotional Needs, Too During a pandemic, there can be so many things to lend our attention to. We get inundated with things to do: check our emails, feed the cat, daily meetings, make sure the kids are safe and fed, find new revenue streams, check on business and personal aid from the state, and more. There simply isn’t any time to focus on the emotional needs of our relationship systems – because so many of us have to focus on financial, physical and mental survival. In a remote working arrangement, we can be sorely deprived of the social connections that once kept us going in the office. It is tempting to get right down to business and skip the small talk. What we sometimes miss out is that an emotional connection to our team members greatly affects communication. This effect is especially amplified when we work remotely. We don’t see the human behind the bombardment of texts and tasks. And it gets easier for misunderstandings to arise. Because roles are not rooted in our character, we don’t have to be “emotionally attuned” to check in on our team members. We can just take a little more time to check in and take stock of morale – because if connection is something we need, there’s a high chance our team members need it too. And that’s a more than good reason enough to do it. 3. Assume Positive Intent Wherever Possible. Or Curiosity, If That’s Too Hard. This can get incredibly difficult for all of us, especially during conflict. Whenever role conflict, fatigue, or confusion arise, this might just be the hardest thing for us to do. It might even be simpler for some of us to come up with a well-thought out, practical solution to the conflict and the works – and still bypass the act of assuming positive intent. Because we want to focus on our relationships and the people with whom we share those relationships, we need to try and trust their motivations. I would go so far as to argue that in the time it takes to come up with practical solutions to resolve conflict, it would pack a bigger punch (in terms of productive impact, of course) to just fulfil this one thing first and foremost – assume positive intent. I’m not saying it’s the easiest thing to do, but it’s the simplest way to effectively shift the ways we reach out to our team members. Boss getting on your case? Maybe they have multiple places to be, all at once. Co-worker not meeting deadlines? Maybe they just need some time to settle down in this new normal. I know this isn’t yoga, but don’t worry - we have a possibly easier option for you. If assuming positive intent is too hard, we can step into the skill of curiosity instead. And don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it the first, second, or even third time. This takes practice, and practice takes time. With the pandemic, we don’t get to establish meaningful relationships with our team members in the ways we knew then (and might still prefer). We learn how to structure our relationships differently. And if you forget everything we’ve written on this article, just remember this one thing. With all that the virus has taken from us, let us not forget that it hasn't taken away our humanity. As we make our way through conflict and difficulty, do something that helps you humanize your teams, social groups, and relationships. If there’s just one you need to know in this mass of words, it would be just that.

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