Human behaviour in times of crises: how to manage the five paradoxes in our current situation

The face of crises

Descriptions of the crises we are experiencing usually revolve around the big numbers: impact on GDP, impact on different business sectors, and more. Without losing sight of this big picture, I believe that an effective response requires greater sensitivity towards people identifiable by name and surname who see their professional expectations dashed, or who are forced to close the business they had pinned their hopes on. Crises have faces, and from this article I send a message of solidarity and support to all readers who are going through hard times. Granted that crises bring pain I would also like to highlight the benefits we can draw from such situations.

Five paradoxes of the crisis in people management

1.The virus confines bodies but not minds

Restrictions on mobility obviously limit movement and affect business in many sectors. However, we discover that our access to new experiences and relationships finds alternative channels. My impression is that some people are experiencing highly creative and relationship-intensive months. In contrast, many who moved freely before the restrictions found themselves living secluded in their routines.

2.Some people connect over distance

When face-to-face encounters occur only in exceptional circumstances, we learn to appreciate the relationships that bring value. We then develop the ability to connect with those people through whatever channels. Conversely, we realise that many people who attended meetings and events, while surrounded by many others in their workplaces, in fact felt lonely.

3.Masks can help us to show ourselves as we are

Outwardly, masks hide the face. What we used to read in facial features and movements, we now have to guess by looking at the eyes alone. A wall seemingly has risen up between us. In reality, when we are shaken up by a crisis that challenges us all equally, and we discover common ground with other people. We then remember the time when we did not wear masks, but maintained a fictitious, artificial relationship with the people around us. Many people were possibly masked though bare faced. We show our true face not when we shed our physical veneer, but when we overlook our prejudices, social conventions, and stylised images. We are looking at the other in the face when we recognize the other as someone we can work with, and not as someone we want to take advantage of, whether or not a mask comes between us.

4.Greater awareness of risk can bring us serenity.

We live in times in which many of our previous securities are being shaken. Plans are upended and we become more aware of our vulnerability. Paradoxically, we realise that these threats were there before, but we did not want to see them. Now at least, we can make career and business decisions more realistically. Perhaps crises bring us closer to reality. If they are managed well, they reinforce our equilibrium. Better to embrace an assumption of uncertainty than a fictitious sense of security.

5.Technology is our ally

Some of the threats we experience (epidemics, etc.) come from natural processes, not artificial ones. In the past, dystopias and doomsday discourses focused on the potentially hostile nature of technology. Automation of processes, AI development, and other technological advances were presented as a risk to employment or to respecting our privacy. While nature was seen as a beneficial environment, the artificial emerged with a threatening face. The crisis we are undergoing presents a more balanced picture within this contrast. It is true that some uses of technology in the working world can have effects that are contrary to the rights and expectations of workers, but it has also been shown in recent months that to confront a threat of natural causes, technology enables us to connect despite our isolation (information technologies) and to defend ourselves against epidemics (biotechnologies). We have thus learned that intelligent use of technology can be a formidable aid to human beings in our working and professional lives.

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