The other day, I was stopped at the door to my client’s office by an assistant who asked, “Can I take your temperature before entering?” How many of us have experienced something similar in the past few weeks?
This encounter is indicative of “The New Normal” we have heard so much about. In another example, you may be aware major companies are now firing employees en masse via Zoom calls. If this wasn’t an impersonal enough way to let go of someone who has put their heart and soul into your organization, there are organizations resorting to text messaging to deliver the bad news.
The truth is our New Normal threatens to undo much of the great civilization we have spent centuries building. To understand what I mean, we must consider the ideas of Malcolm Gladwell. You may have heard of his concept of the 10K hour rule from his book, Outliers. (True mastery of anything, from music to cooking, requires 10,000 hours of practice.) Gladwell just wrote a new book: Talking to Strangers, in which he presents this hypothesis: Humans have a default tendency to believe other humans. To trust them.
Trust has served our species well. Back when we were nomadic tribes dependent upon the group for our safety and food, we had to trust our clan would have our back—otherwise we might not live to see another day. Likewise, until recently our modern lives functioned well under the belief we could trust others. This is why we can confidently cross the street with a stroller believing we won’t be mowed down at the intersection.
And of course, we all know businesses function best when mutual trust exists between individuals. But, what happens when trust breaks down—when we come to fear that the person entering our office may be a biological weapon that without even meaning to could infect us and our loved ones—making us sick, even killing us?
When this happens, trust evaporates. Corporate cultures shatter. And relationships, the core of all human life, collapse. Most of us have never experienced anything like this in the course of modern life. We have never had to wonder if just being in the presence of another could harm us.
This is unchartered territory. And, it feels frightening. We all agree we have a problem. But as the motivational speaker Tony Robbins once said, “Embrace your problems for problems are what make you grow.”
So, how might our current problem contribute to our personal growth?
By forcing us to develop better interpersonal skills. Before the pandemic ever hit our shores, too many of us were lacking in emotional intelligence—or at least weren’t applying it enough.
Instead of actually listening to others in face-to-face meetings, we were busy scrolling on our phones for the next text message, the next Facebook update. Likewise, instead of taking the time to build meaningful relationships with our colleagues and peers, we were on to the next thing—running around in a perpetual rat race.
We had lost touch with much of our humanity in service of expediency.
In light of this truth, what if we disrupted our New Normal by going back to our Old Normal? I am talking way back to ancient times—before the invention of the smartphone—before keeping up on social media sucked up all of our free time and a 24/7 news cycle hijacked our attention.
What if the Old Normal became the New Normal?
To help you understand what I am suggesting, consider this: For the past few years, the prevailing wisdom has been to multitask, to go-go at the speed of light. Instead of developing deeper connections with our staff and clients, we rushed to keep up with endless demands on our time.
But as former President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said, “We should never let a crisis go to waste.” I agree with him. Let’s not squander this opportunity. Let’s also not let this problem overwhelm us. Instead, let’s seize this moment to build greater trust in our personal dealings.
To help us accomplish this, allow me to introduce three new rules for the “New Normal”—I mean the “Old Normal”—that will strengthen our corporate cultures and our civilization.
Rule 1: Come Back To The Golden Rule
Clearly, what’s old is now new again, beginning with the Golden Rule. In all of our dealings with others, both online and IRL, let’s practice this most basic tenet: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Returning to the request I received from my client about taking my temperature before entering the building, it is not my place to tell you what to do if faced with a similar situation. Instead, I would simply ask you to consider, when asking others to do everything from complying with social distancing to informing on others who may not be complying, please stop to think, “Would I want to be asked to do this if I were in the other’s place? And would I want to be talked to in the way I am talking to them?”
Answering these questions will give you needed moral clarity, rebuilding trust in others.
Rule 2: When In Doubt, Give Others The Benefit Of It
It’s no secret our political climate is more toxic than ever. Incivility is on the rise, along with violence, borne out of our collective breakdown in trust. But we can begin to fix this problem by mind-shifting. Instead of looking for reasons to be outraged or offended, especially as public life resumes, let us seek ways to find the good in others. Let us not begin by presuming the worst—or even doubting others’ intentions.
Instead, let our baseline assumption be that others mean well. Though small, this simple act promises to reorient every interaction toward greater trust.
Rule 3: Always Seek To Be Of Service To Others
As the old saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” No one knows what personal tragedies others are going through—especially in our hectic world in which business conversations often skim the surface. However, if our primary focus in all of our dealings with others is to be helpful, we begin a powerful, positive chain reaction. We move from having transactions to relationships with others.
And though seeking to serve others might seem to largely benefit the other person, it actually serves us more. Not only does it make us feel better, it also can pay greater dividends in the long run by building trust.
To bring this conversation full circle, let us consider the thoughts of one more luminary, Peter Drucker, the renowned business leader who once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What he meant by this is all the planning in the world cannot take the place of getting the “people issue” right.
For years, the promise of tech, especially artificial intelligence, has lured us into thinking we could solve all of our business challenges with more technology. Though innovations, such as the endless Zoom calls we now conduct on the daily, have certainly helped during the pandemic, they have also revealed just how important our humanity it is.
Culture, both business and societal, depends on trust to function. But more importantly, we depend on trust to live. For without each other—without you and me—what is the point of business? What is the point of our lives?
In the days to come, when someone brings up The New Normal, I encourage you to remember the power of the Old Normal and how following these three simple rules will restore trust, grow us as people, and lead to greater successes than we ever dreamed possible.