As I sit down to write this, I have just entered my 6th week of isolation. I have experienced ups and downs. I have struggled through deep bouts of depression (despite never having a history prior to Covid), and moments of pure elation. I have struggled with isolation while also cherishing it deeply. To say quarantine has been manic would be an understatement. I have had to navigate the frustration of bureaucracy and find comfort in mediation. I have found wisdom, motivation, and inspiration from leaders like Brené Brown who reminded us that we are collectively experiencing an FFT (F'ing First Times), during the corona virus pandemic. And I have regressed into a weeping ball buried under my covers. While we have been navigating our own private Idaho's we've also known this was never going to last forever. Now finally the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to appear as states begin to contemplate reopening. So now a new question is arising, how do we go back to normal after so much Trauma? And my answer is we don't. Normal as we knew it is over, but this does not mean we are hopeless.
The latest host of questions being asked by many in this moment aren't when we return but how we return into the world and who will we be when that moment comes. Questions like: Am I ready to rejoin a functioning society? Am I ready to go back to work? Am I ready to engage socially with others in person after connecting over technology for so long? Am I capable of connecting with others since adjusting to the culture of quarantine?
What all of these questions have in common is that they reflect the impact of trauma. Covid has put all of us though some level of trauma at some point during this pandemic. Healthcare workers, their patients, essential workers, parents, teachers, children, single adults, coupled adults, employed, and unemployed have ALL undergone levels of trauma during this crisis. For all of us, this has included navigating a global pandemic for the first time. For many of us, it has been navigating unemployment and the financial hardships associated with it. For some of us, it has been fighting to overcome illness or trying to heal those in their fight against the virus. And for a number of us, it has meant confronting the loss of loved ones. None of us is being spared trauma right now and it will impact our ability to return to "normal."
So how does a leader, who wants to bring their team back and have them function productively, begin this process? How does one go back into the world and move beyond the current stresses and anxiety created during isolation? How do we overcome our fears of performing routine errands, when our routine has been hijacked by a new scary and stressful protocol? We must start by collectively acknowledging trauma and begin the triage necessary to heal and rehabilitate.
If we want to recover, heal, and grow from this cultural upheaval we must undertake the triage needed to do this healing. This will come in the traditional form of councilors, therapists, spiritual leaders, and coaches. But what will be there to help organizations cope with fractured team dynamics? How will collaborative groups, which may have passably functioned prior to covid, reassemble and strengthen their professional community? How will leaders adjust to team dynamics that have shifted as a result of trauma? If we claim that our health and wellbeing, and the health and wellbeing of our teams and communities, is paramount to our recovery then we must familiarize ourselves with triage. If organizations and corporations that espouse a concerned and benevolent culture toward employees want to remain authentic in their mission statements, they must invest in forms of triage care for their workforce.
We must learn to strengthen our awareness and our communication. We must lean into adaptability and problem solving. We must learn to become comfortable with collaboration again. We must invest in soft skills to help us triage our trauma. The power of soft skills training goes beyond the initial triage. Soft skills develop and strengthen through practice. They enable us to become more aware, compassionate, communicative, and collaborative. If we are committed to heal the trauma our teams and communities have undergone, soft skills training MUST be another resource that is utilized.
The power soft skills have is the ability to shift culture through positive and compassionate transformation. The power soft skills have is to create a new normal. When framed through this lens, rebuilding becomes exciting and ripe with positive potential. I imagine a world that is more patient, tolerant, and inclusive. I Imagine work environments that prides themselves on the success of how teams empower and care for one another through collaboration. I imagine having relationships that capitalize on compassion and empathy.
We are about to enter a period of rebuilding. But this rebuilding should not only be limited to just replacing what was lost, rather we should be including cultural identities we have longed for. Rebuilding and retraining teams and communities from a soft skills foundation of compassion, collaboration, awareness, and adaptability is the most powerful position we can chose to begin our healing. But it will require us to actively choose this path and invest in this training. I hope we choose wisely.
Kate Katz is a soft skills developer who founded All Hands In, a soft skills development company. Kate works with individuals and organizations by helping them to develop and strengthen their soft skills, through practical her workshops and training sessions.