By Mitchell Stephenson
The Stepping Stone, May 2021
These are uncertain times. A global pandemic is raging, there are historic economic challenges, and more people than ever have stopped commuting to work and are working out of their homes. 2020 was a difficult year, and 2021 is shaping up to be one, too. Many if not most people have needed to get used to living, and working, differently than they ever did before.
During the first few months of the pandemic, it was difficult to adjust to the “new normal.” Remote work required the use of new technology to communicate. Crying kids in the background, barking dogs, and spotty internet connections all became commonplace during virtual meetings. There was constant uncertainty and anxiety as COVID-19 spread across the globe. All these factors upended our sense of normalcy and required us to figure out ways to adjust to the new normal.
Part of adjusting to my own situation included trying to understand and empathize with others. Many have been sick, or lost friends or loved ones. Others needed to balance home schooling and day care with work, adjust to socially isolated situations, or worry about underlying health conditions for themselves, friends, or relatives. Many people have dealt with more uncertainty than they’ve experienced before. None of us can know for sure what stresses others are dealing with. And on the flip side—when we ourselves are having a particularly difficult day—we deserve as much respect and understanding as possible. It all comes back to the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated.
Here are some things I’ve learned to better respect myself and others, especially when it comes to communicating and working remotely:
- Put away your apologies. Everyone’s circumstance is difficult. It isn’t necessary to apologize for things that are out of your control. This includes kids that need attention, dogs barking, or other distractions that are an inevitable part of living and working at home. Instead, say “Thank you.” An example is, “Thank you for putting up with my dogs. They always bark when someone knocks on the door.” In this way, you are respecting yourself by not seeking the forgiveness of others for things you cannot control. This will also encourage others to do the same. Respecting oneself can be contagious.
- Respect people’s time during virtual meetings. Because of remote work, many of us are not meeting in conference rooms and instead are using our computers for video or audio calls. Many instant messaging applications will show the availability of an individual. Unless that person has said it’s OK, contacting them during a virtual meeting may distract and encourage them to multitask, which is proven not to be productive. Instead of reaching out during the meeting, wait until they are available. If there are no openings in their schedule, send a short instant message or email explaining your question and allow for some time before receiving a response. This type of communication shows respect, enables the individual to concentrate on what they are doing, and allows them time to get back to you when they are available.
- Address others with an appropriate greeting. With most of us communicating on instant messaging, it can be very easy to lapse into an informal way of addressing each other. It is important not to start these messages in an informal tone which may be misinterpreted as accusatory, impolite, or disrespectful. For example, starting a sentence over instant messaging such as, “Did you finish reviewing the document I sent?” might not read the way you intend it to. While this may be a legitimate query, it’s important to greet individuals appropriately first and then introduce the topic, especially through writing. A simple “good morning” and a quick gut check on how others may interpret the tone will make the message more respectful. For example, “Good morning—I’m checking in to see if you had a chance to review the document I sent. Thanks in advance, and please let me know when you are all set.” will introduce a level of respect, appreciation, and gratitude to the interaction—which many of us deserve and will appreciate—during these trying times.
Author Ritu Ghatoury said, “Respect cannot be found when you seek it for yourself but when you give it to others. It will find its way back to you.” That is a perfect summation of the benefits of following the golden rule. In this new normal, we can all use a little understanding, empathy, and respect. Keep these tips in mind; remember to respect others and, most of all, respect yourself.
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries, the editors, or the respective authors’ employers.
Mitchell Stephenson, FSA, MAAA, is the head of actuarial model management and controls at Prudential Financial and can be reached at email@example.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/mitch-stephenson-a4a5123b/.