by Achim Nowak

FEEL. TALK. CONNECT. Your Playbook for US Election Week.

October 30, 2020

Put this in the category of “you can’t make it up.”

Tuesday is Election Day in the US.

On Wednesday morning, a 3-day virtual Finance Summit for a global pharmaceutical company kicks off. On Thursday, I host a session on Resilience and Leadership at this Summit.

What do you say about resilience in a week when all hell may break loose?

Here’s the thinking on this matter at the Finance Summit planning meeting.

Everyone in Europe, says Kristina, the Croatian head of HR for the enterprise, will want to talk about the US election. That’s all everyone is thinking about. That and Covid.

This summit will have over 100 participants from every part of the world. Singapore. Hongkong. The US. Brazil. And yes, every corner of Europe.

We’ll talk about the outcomes of the election only in so far as they affect our financial strategy, asserts Damian, the Chief Financial Officer from the US.

I know we don’t talk about politics and religion at work, Kristina persists. But our conference starts the morning after Election Day. I don’t know how we don’t talk about this.

You may not be taking part in an international summit the morning after the US election, but whatever the outcome is, whatever may or may not be known at that point – it will be on everyone’s mind. Wherever you work. Whatever part of the world you’re in. Tuesday’s US election is a global event.

Every person has thoughts, opinions, feelings on the outcomes of this event. And every thought, opinion, feeling will be amplified this week.

We won’t talk about politics or religion? Toss that playbook into the dumpster.

We reach this week after months of stuffing our feelings at work. Trying to compartmentalize work and the rest of our lives. Many of us, ironically, work from home and compartmentalization – the sort that happens when we leave our home and go to a physical office – has not been possible any way.

Amplify this by the fact that we have been trying to figure out who we can “get real with” at work with our feelings about what is going on in the world. The pandemic. Social justice marches. The election campaigns. The future of the economy. The future of the entire planet.

Want to be resilient this week? Enough stuffing it. Enough pretending that a world in turmoil doesn’t impact your psyche or your soul at work. FEEL. TALK. CONNECT. Let that be your resilience playbook this week. Yes, FEEL. TALK. CONNECT.

That doesn’t mean getting into political arguments. It means being human.

Here’s how we do it.

  1. FEEL

This is not the week to act all cool and try to ride above the fray. Don’t put on a detached public veneer. It is pretty darn impossible for you to not have feelings about what is going on in the world or with US election results. Do you feel anxious? Exhausted? Exhilarated? Dismayed? Hopeful? Depressed? Whatever emotions are kicking up for you, allow them. Feel them. When you do, you give those around you permission to feel their feelings, as well. We’re keeping it human. We’re keeping it real.

Have a business meeting right after the election? Start with a feeling check-in. Invite folks to state how they feel. Not tell a whole long story. Simply state how we feel, in a sentence or two. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They aren't left-wing or right-wing. They just are. Nobody gets to argue with your feelings. Nobody gets to take them away from you. You own them.

It can be a tremendous relief to all of us when we have permission to own our feelings. The power that feelings have over us tends to diminish the moment we're allowed to state them and not stuff them. Naming our feelings does not mean having a political debate. It just means we have permission to be human.

  1. TALK

When I offer a bit more context about why I feel the way I feel, 2 powerful things are likely to happen: I get clearer about why I feel as I do about what's going on in the world. And as stated above, my act of speaking is likely to dial down the power of my emotion. An added benefit? The colleagues and friends who're listening to me may feel more empathy and compassion for my experience, even if they disagree with my point-of-view.

Talking does not equal debating. Here's some language that may be helpful as you talk at work this week: I am really excited about this outcome because it gives me hope for ....!  I feel depressed about what happened because I am afraid that ...!  I am anxious because I fear that ....!

We're not debating. We're not rebutting. We're not making anyone wrong. We're not attacking "the other side." We're not doing battle. We speak of our experience. And we keep it brief.

Listen. Just listen. Listen does not mean I agree. Listen simply means I respect you enough to let you have your experience and perspective. And I hope you respect me enough, in turn, to listen to mine. When we do so, we are likely to feel a collective sigh of relief. The fog of stuffing what we think and feel lifts. And we're suddenly able to focus on work with a renewed focus and clarity.


Do you have the urge to express whatever you may be experiencing more deeply? A sense that others around you long to do the same? Are you concerned that it simply isn't safe to do so? Do you feel, like Kristina from HR, that we can't just put on "the professional show?"

Especially during a time of turmoil and disruption, we long to feel safe. The larger the group, the harder it is to feel safe. Consider this simple approach. Start a business meeting after the election by putting your team members in pairs. You can easily do this via virtual technology. Give each pair 10 minutes to speak, vent, get whatever they need to get off their chest about what's going on in the world. Speaking 1-1 is much safer than speaking in a full meeting. Suggest simple safety guidelines such as "let's focus on our experience instead of attacking or blaming others." Trust that each pair will self-regulate and share only what feels safe with that particular conversation partner.

You have just given each other permission to be human. To not compartmentalize. 10 minutes is all it takes.

Here's an invaluable lesson I learned many moons ago, when I was a trainer for a large international training company. It's wisdom that is particularly pertinent in a high-intensity week such as the one we're in. It goes something like this: When we have an hour to do some work together, practice the following. Start with 10 minutes of "soft activity" and you will be a heck of a lot of more productive in the 50 minutes that follow. "Soft activity" means a brain teaser, an icebreaker, something to warm up our entire being and ease us into deeper, more content-heavy work. In other words - a soft opener, a playful opener, a human opener gets us 50 minutes of relaxed and committed engagement. Without it, we're likely to have 60 minutes of constipated participation.

So this week, take time with your colleagues before you dive into the transactional work at hand. FEEL. TALK. CONNECT. It may not be a soft opener, and it may take more than 10 minutes. Resilience happens when we lean in, not when we run away. Consider it essential time that helps you get to the work you need to get done.

It's the human thing to do. It's also the productive thing to do.

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