SPECIAL EPISODE 2: How to Best Cope and Make Decisions During the Current Crisis—with Dr. Jan West

Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this special episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. My guest today is Jan West and she is a clinical psychologist by training and a consultant and coach who works with executives and other leaders in organizations and companies. I asked her on because I wanted her and I to have a conversation about what's currently going on with the coronavirus crisis that everyone is having to contend with in some way and everybody is having to figure out their way through it and figure out coping mechanisms to be able to manage their lives and their business and the folks that they work with. So, we talked today about ways that they can do that.

We talk about our own experience in terms of how we're trying to not be reactive and more responsive, and things that you can do to help yourself, help your loved ones, and help your clients get through this and to get through this in as healthiest way possible. So, so much heart and soul is in this episode. I'm really excited for you folks to hear it so let's get started. Hi, I want to welcome my guest today, Jan West. Jan, thank you so much for joining the show.

Jan West: Deb, I'm so happy to be here.

Deb Zahn: Well, I'm happy to have you here because we are going to go deep into some of the crises that folks are facing today and how they're responding to them. But let's start off. What type of consulting and coaching do you do?

Jan West: Consulting work Deb is as an organizational consultant. I'm a psychologist and so I do a lot of executive coaching and coaching with emerging leaders, helping them get to the next level of skill or way of thinking, whatever that is and then, working also with teams and more broadly in companies.

Deb Zahn: That's great and I am going to say a little bit for any new listeners out there. I am a consultant who works in the health care world and so, as you can imagine, I have lots of clients that are really doing amazing things and yet struggling in the face of the current coronavirus pandemic and I know that your clients are also in the midst of figuring out how to respond to it and leaders are trying to figure out how to effectively respond to this. That's sort of what we want to talk about today is how, from our perspective both personally and professionally, we're seeing what is emerging and the types of responses to it and the types of things we should be doing. So that's why I'm so excited to have you on. Let's start off. What are you seeing, so when you look at those around you and your clients, what are you seeing in terms of how they're responding to the crisis we're currently in?

Jan West: Deb, I'm seeing such a heartening mix of…I think everybody feels fear in whatever way we feel it. At the same time, I'm seeing tremendous strength and compassion. I'm really seeing the broad range of how we all respond to the fear, the uncertainty, the chaos and, at the same time, I'm seeing people step forward with such humanity, grace, and compassion that is heartening. The whole thing. I'm seeing a broad range of responses to really unprecedented times and disruption.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I would agree. I'm seeing the same thing and the proactiveness and the thoughtfulness and particularly with my health care clients. The focus on protecting the patients and their communities and their workers is just...has made me so tremendously proud of them. Then, on the flip side, what I'm also seeing is for organizations, for companies, for individuals, including consultants, the reality of you have to respond effectively and you have to do the best thing possible but you're losing money. There's uncertainty of when that revenue is going to come back. For individuals, there is the concern with...they need that income to support their family, how are they going to do it or for organizations. And I'm thinking of some of the mental health providers that I work with or that my husband works at. They're doing the right thing, but they're doing it in the face of a really uncertain future, in terms of what does long-term sustainability look like. And I think that's got people having to live in these dual worlds of doing good but also living with the fear and anxiety.

Jan West: Absolutely and I think what's perhaps the most unsettling is that we don't see how we're going to come up the other side.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jan West: We don't know what we're planning for.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Jan West: We don't know what it's going to take. I think what we can do is kind of what's our best next step whatever that might be, which means some bravery, right?

Deb Zahn: Right.

Jan West: To go forward, make decisions based on the best information the person might have at the moment, knowing that in two days it could no longer be accurate, no longer be the best next step. That kind of flexibility and fluidity I think is key to what people are doing now.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, agreed. Yeah, and so, we're in New York in the US, and I think our governor is doing a fantastic job in terms of his leadership with this but new things happen because then they heighten the precautions, they heighten the precautions—as well they should—but then, and I've certainly seen them in my own home because my husband works at a mental health organization. and then they have to activate a whole new set of protocols and communications and things that there are no protocols for because you've never had to do that before in your entire existence. And so, there is that. It's constantly changing and how do you stay flexible and also be able to, particularly as a leader, I think you used different terminology, but hold the space so that you are active and proactive but also that calming influence.

When you're talking with leaders, how do you help them do both of those things at the same time when I'm sure they're also, on some level, panicking?

Jan West: Yeah, I really agree with you Deb, it is holding both of those things. We can call them polarities, which means they look like they're in opposition like change in stability, but actually they're interdependent.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jan West: So, for example, I noticed, I've been talking with people a lot this week about what is the opportunity in the crisis. The crisis is clear and easy to see. The opportunity becomes clearer as we do in fact slow down, which feels sometimes counterintuitive in a crisis. We feel like we should speed up and do more and do faster but truth be told, that kind of stepping back and reflection, that's slowing down the speed up I think right now is one of the most helpful leadership tools out there, so that we can get a sense of what's actually happening, what people might actually be needing and how you might actually be helpful and it might look pretty different than it did last week.

Deb Zahn: That's right, but at least you're not going to panic-decide something and I think this is where it's helpful. And this is one of my coping mechanisms. So personally, this is one of the things that I'm doing and certainly have encouraged others to do is to make sure you actually have the best available information. For example, I've been talking with a whole bunch of consultants who...and even setting aside my clients for a second…but talking to a whole bunch of consultants who are really worried about their livelihood that, how are they...if they've had gigs canceled which most of us have of most of us have had things delayed.

Folks who go out and do trainings I know have lost all if not damn near all their business. And in my case, I'm the primary breadwinner for my family so that really matters. And what are you going to do? I could feel myself start to spiral into that panic, and I knew enough to know: Stop. Get the information you need in front of you that is actually accurate and not based on your current emotional state. And then develop a plan and then make decisions. I sat down with my finances, and I looked at everything. I did best case scenario and worst case scenario projections and I just keep saying, “I'm just going to do the math and then, and only then, am I going to figure out what I'm going to do about it.” And it was tremendously helpful.

Not because everything was perfect and rosy and I had nothing to worry about but because now I could make a decision not just based on my reptilian brain that was like, "Ah, oh my god, run, run," but I was able to drag it into my frontal cortex—actually kicking and screaming—and actually able to make decisions about it. What are you seeing in terms of some of the useful ways that people can cope with this and respond effectively, like very tactical type of things?

Jan West: For me, that is where the mindfulness work comes in so deeply, in that, that's exactly what that kind of practice, whatever you do or whatever you might want to try but that sense of returning to center. Returning to what's real. Returning to what's in the present, and there are lots of ways to do that, including just walking outside and feeling the air differently and then notice what's starting to blossom in the spring. Whatever it takes for you, but that minute of getting in the present is so helpful for getting us out of reactivity and into responding and those are two different worlds. I like your “panic decisions.” Is that what you say?

Deb Zahn: Yeah, panic deciding.

Jan West: Panic deciding. Yeah. That is reactivity as we know and then you were able to get yourself out of that and into focus on something different that yielded a different outcome. I think the hard part for me can be notice when I'm reactive versus when I'm responding and be able get right in there with the tool, could be very simple. Take the dog for walk, take three breaths, go outside, lots of people have mindfulness apps that they use. Anything to switch that activity is so important to be able to get your feet under you and make an actual decision instead of kind of one based from panic.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Yeah and I would say the other thing is...and this has been working for me, is so much feels out of control right now because it is. Like that's actually true. I can do what I can do but I cannot control everything around me. And I'm worried about my mom's health and I'm worried about my husband's health and people that I love, my clients and so I've been finding small yet meaningful things where I actually can do something that feels like I have more agency than I'm currently experiencing in the rest of my life right now. For any gardeners like myself, and I know you planted your peas already, which is wonderful.

Jan West: I did.

Deb Zahn: You know what, I'm getting my hands in the soil. So I have a whole setup downstairs with grow lights that I put in my seedlings and what not because there's not much what I can do outside right now where I live. So I'm making plant labels, I'm planting seedlings, and I'm organizing my seeds storage system and things that. In the larger scheme of things, does all of that need to happen? Not necessarily but it gives me an opportunity to practice agency and some type of control over something that I'm doing and I need it. I need it, even if it's just on a small level.

Jan West: Boy, do I know what you're talking about. I find myself making small decisions then feeling really good about that. You're right, I did plant peas, OK, I might have planted a whole lot, but I needed to do it. Any sort of cleaning, any sort of organizing, any kind of making order is something that I feel like I want to do and can do and it does lift my spirits a bit. I think for me, other things that are helpful are keeping in touch, albeit almost all by Zoom these days. It is helping me a lot and keeping in touch with people that certainly my family but also the people I look to for support like our group that we have means the world to me. To know who's out there, be in touch with friends.

I'm doing things that feed my soul. I'm actually reading, and it feels like a throwback. I realized I have to work to concentrate a little bit on reading. I'm so used to the quick soundbites now, but I've got an entire stack of books that I'm working my way through and I realize what a pleasure it is. I think any kind of soul feeding that people can do doesn't just sharpen the saw but it strengthens our resilience.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I would agree and to make those choices wisely...and everyone including you, just feel free to laugh at me about this. Both my husband and I have public health background. So we know enough to know that we really truly need to be concerned and respond effectively. Last night, I said out loud as if it was a normal thing to say, I said, "Honey, I think we should watch the movie Contagion." He also...he's an educational psychologist, but he just stared at me like, "Did you want to rethink what you just said?" He said, "You're feeling worried about the weight of decisions you're making”…because as you know my mom is now in quarantine because she had somebody...she had contact with somebody who had contact with somebody who has tested positive. And she's fine and not showing any symptoms and she took all the precautions possible so we think it's a low chance. But I was in this panic state. In this panic state, I thought the best thing to do was to watch a movie about a pandemic. Fortunately, I had a wise person who I married who said, "What are you thinking? That's not feeding your soul. That's actually feeding the panic.” I know because of the work that I've done with myself that you have an opportunity to make a choice: you're feeding the soul and you're feeding health and wellness or are you going to feed the panic, the negativity, et cetera? Luckily, I didn't. We watched the second Jumanji, which was fun and goofy and it was fine.

That was an interesting thing and I've heard that shows about pandemics have actually...people are like binge watching them and I would just...and I've been saying to everybody like he said something to me last night. “Is this the best thing for you to do right now. What are you feeding?”

Jan West: What a great question: what are you feeding?

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Yeah.

Jan West: It reminds me of my friend and colleague, Dr. Glenda Russell, a psychologist who talks a lot about, in times like these, watching what you consume. And she's not just talking food, alcohol, drugs, although those too but also news, information, taking on other people's feelings because there's a lot of stimulation out there right now and I think titrating that is a big part of self-compare.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, because you want to be informed. My mother is in quarantine because there were folks who were not paying attention to reality and to particular precautions but at the same time if all you're doing is feeding, feeding, feeding, feeding it, at a certain point, it's not about information, it's about feeding the panic. That's what it is.

Jan West: Yes.

Deb Zahn: Then you can't make choices so it's the same thing with if you're watching the stock market crash, if you're just watching all of your business disappear, and that's all you're paying attention to. At a certain point, you are saturated beyond your ability to make clear decisions based on the best available information.

Jan West: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: One of the other things that we wanted to get into…because this is the other important point…you and I talked offline about really the desire to help and to be generous in how we help. So, I'm in the fortunate position that I've lost business, but it's OK for a certain period of time and I'll be fine. But not everybody is so I want to help the people who hopefully I can help take something off their worry list by helping them figure out how to effectively respond to some of the revenue loss that they've had. What we've talked about is being able to identify our magic, the thing about us that can really help those around us and help the world. And how do we identify that because we don't always walk around and know truly what our magic is. How do you know what your magic is, particularly in this time? I know that's a tough question.

Jan West: It is a tough question. It makes me think back about other tough situations. As a rancher, growing up as a rancher, I've been in a lot of life and death situations. Both human and animal and there's a muscle there that I think for me comes into play, which is slow down, keep your head, follow your gut, use the best information you have, and keep moving.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jan West: I think for me, that's the backbone of how I respond, once things get to a certain level of intensity and I bring that and I think...That's the foundation for me and then I bring a whole lot of years of listening, of seeing people in every kind of situation, of deeply understanding...I was going to say deeply understanding what makes people tick. Let's face it, people are so complex that's why I'm so fascinated with us, right? It's not that I know but over the years pattern recognition is helpful. So many of the things I see about fear when I hear them, I think, "Oh, that's fear." And I think it's helping with my reactivity to some of the ways people are behaving is I think, "Oh, that's fear."

I can deal with the fear differently than what looks like meanness or unkindness. I think part of the magic is knowing how to get through pretty bad things and another part is listening for something different. Listening for something that I can respond to in a compassionate way, instead of in a reactive unhelpful way.

Deb Zahn: Yup and that definitely is magic. Yes, I've been reflecting in terms of how I want to help as much as I possibly can right now and I've been thinking about what do I offer. One is, I'm extraordinarily tender-hearted and that's actually one of my favorite things about myself. I feel deeply and I'm very empathetic towards folks because of my own life and because of how I've seen other folks live and be in the world and some of their struggles. I've been doing things like just texting people and saying, “How you're doing? I'm here, even if you just need an ear.” And some of them have been clients and some of them have been like the assistant for the CEO because I know that they're dealing with a bunch of stuff. Doing it from a clean perspective so I am not doing that to try and run my business. There are things that I'm going to do that are specific to my business and specific to my revenue, but those things are about love and empathy. And I'm good at distinguishing the two. I'm good at being able to stay clear and I know that I can be helpful and, if nothing else, a calm for just a minute in a day so that they know that I know you are having a hard time and I recognize it, I honor it, and if you need anything, I'm here for you. 

Then the one that I've really been thinking about is I like to...in better times, I like to joke that I helped cure decision making disorders because I'm good at walking people down the path towards a decision. I thought, well wow, if there was ever a time that that would be particularly helpful it would be now. How do you not do the panic decision making and how do you, in a much more calmer and deliberate way, make decisions, particularly decisions that have really high stakes. When I've been thinking about the magic that I want to put out in the world and I want to help people with, whether it's my loved ones or clients or even strangers. Those are the things I'm paying attention to. The question then is how do we get it out there, recognizing that first and foremost is our desire to be of service right now and we still have to make decisions. And some folks are in positions where they have to make a bit more when they really do have to think about the reality of existence of revenue and business and paying mortgage and things like that.

Do you have any suggestions for folks who hopefully have embraced their magic because we know that this is also a time where a lot of insecurity can come up. So I will talk about that in a moment but what are some of the ways that people can either do something different or do something they know works and get their magic out there?

Jan West: I was thinking abou, when we were talking about things are stripped away. Our blinders are off. The usual business is not happening. The usual ways we deal with each other aren't necessarily working now. That's when I go back to, all right, keeping in touch. For me, it's good for me and I think good for the people around me and I don't just mean friends, I mean clients. I found myself this week emailing clients with even a memory or a photo from other times.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Jan West: Remember that this is you and you can do this and just that reaching out with some, I believe in you, kind of messages, I think can be quite helpful. And I know people here have come through many, many challenges, and I think it can be helpful to think back about what got you through those and what can you bring forward. So kind of what are the magical skills you've already developed that you know are helpful and how you can bring those forward, whether that's staying in touch, whether that's being funny, whether that's checking in on people. I think the base skills, the stripped away skills that we have are always appropriate.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Agreed. Agreed, yeah. And I have a dear friend, Deb Cullerton who's a consultant and one of the world's best trainers I've ever seen. She put out a video on LinkedIn. First of all, it was from the heart because that's who she is, fundamentally as a person, but the other thing is it was so practical and immediately actionable. She was talking about how to do remote teams and things like that and what as a leader you need to think about that some of your folks need. It wasn't so high level and aspirational that they couldn't wrap their head around it. What struck me about it is it was so practical. Here are some of the things related to technology. Here are some of the things that, from an operational perspective, you don't necessarily know you need to do but are going to make their day-to-day lives so much easier that then you can also deal with the emotions and deal with the other things that people are thinking. I thought she could have put out a video that was fancy and splashy. and it would have been clearly about trying to get business. But instead she went to what is the most helpful thing that I know and I uniquely know because she also did amazing logistical work during hurricane Katrina so she knows crisis. What is the most helpful thing that I can tell people right now that will make a difference in people's day-to-day lives? And I was so impressed with it.

I've seen other things that folks have put out there...and I give everybody the benefit of the doubt that it's from a perspective of helping but it looked...A few things I've seen have looked more like they were in a panic. And it wasn't that what they were saying wasn't helpful but it was...it clearly looked like it was in many ways coming from a different place, and therefore it's going to be less helpful because I think that that comes through. I think it can contribute to other people's panic and so, when my friend, Deb, sat down and said, “I'm going to do this.” She did it after centering herself and slowing down and saying, “What's my magic and what's the magic that people need right now?” I'm so impressed. She's amazing.

Jan West: I love it.

Deb Zahn: Let's actually talk a little about...there's obviously folks in the world who have a hard time knowing what their magic is. I'm thinking of someone in particular who's being called to do really big difficult things for...or even thinking of my husband who has 50 people reporting to him and part of his job and part of this other person's job is to help the folks that are working under them as much as possible. My husband is very good, and he knows what his magic is. He's got lots of it, that's why I married him! But there are other folks that don't and their insecurity might be getting in the way and so because we are in a place where we're stripped down, I see an opportunity to get to embracing what our magic is when we can get past the insecurity.

How would you suggest to someone who maybe is still stuck in the insecurity? You know they have a lot that they could be offering right now, and they just need to get past whatever is holding them back. How would you suggest they go about that?

Jan West: One thing that's been helpful for me, to keep thinking about, is what I can control and what I can't control. I think getting into a mindset of, OK, this is enormous, and I can't control all these things. What is in my realm of being able to either control or influence, such as decisions or people or turning something off? I mean, as you are saying, sort of a sense of agency but to do that. I have to get out of that feeling of this is ginormous. This pandemic is never-ending. I can’t get myself into that. It doesn't help me. I think that would be the first step that I would maybe ask people to consider is that sense of sorting what you can and can't control. From there, what are you best suited to influence?

Deb Zahn: In a very clear focused, step-by-step way. And I do think that helps people get past insecurities. If you really just go through a process without starting with “I can't,” right? I mean, I think you'll end up with a whole bunch more “cans” than you started with.

Jan West: Exactly and I do think sometimes just starting with the question: what can I control?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jan West: Yes, I'm with you because today, the balance sheet feels pretty big in the “can't control” department, but I think just kind of that refocusing on what can I control or influence.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Yeah. I love that because we can't live our day-to-day lives feeling as if everything is out of control. It's too much. It's going to produce anxiety. Anxiety is a natural response to that. It's not irrational, and if you can do that pause and say, "OK, what is in my control? Who can I influenceW who can I help?" and answer those questions first. Then you can start saying, “OK, well maybe...” It's almost like creating a potion. I can add a little bit of this magic. I can add a little bit of that magic…and then really inventory what you've been able to do for others in crisis or even when there hasn’t been on. Then, by the end of it, you've probably got some serious magic to get out there.

Jan West: It can and I'm thinking if it really feels difficult to access, often, it's the kind of thing people thank you for, that is your magic.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, good one.

Jan West: It's not always what we think it is. Sometimes it is. Thank you for traveling my walk but other times it's a matter of thank you for stopping to say hi or it can be very small and magical at the same time.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I love that. I love thinking about what others have said about you because often others particularly for folks that have...still have insecurities which we all do.

Jan West: We all do.

Deb Zahn: Think about other people's perspective or even ask other people. Ask people who you trust and are going to be honest with you. Ask them. “What do you think the most helpful thing I could do right now?” And they'll probably add things to your “I can” column and take some things away from your “I can't” column if you've talk to the right people.

Jan West: What a great question. What if everyone listening would take that question forward, to ask your people today?

Deb Zahn: That would be glorious.

Jan West: What an empowering day.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Yeah, because then you get to see what agency you could have and where you can best apply it. Then you start thinking about, “OK, how can I do this?” Was it texting someone I love, you sending a photo of them, or some memory of them that reminds them of who they are? That is so beautiful but to think about videos that you can put out, articles that you can read, articles that you can share. You don't even have to write it but something that helps people get through this and helps you feel good because you've done something meaningful and generous in the world. I love that. That's wonderful. Let me ask you the last question. I always end every podcast asking about life balance and I think now that the world has changed around us, it's even more important. How are you bringing balance to yourself at this time?

Jan West: Well, my daughter is back from college so she's moved back in because her college isn't open anymore. We are having to reconfigure things. So I find myself probably more than anything, letting go, letting go, letting go. Yeah, it used to be like this; now it needs to be like this or...and I mean that in a million small ways. That's one thing. It's kind of letting go what my expectations are of what life is like or how we do things or it just has to change. That's one thing. I find myself holding my dog quite a bit. Ultimately, she's tiny and likes to be snuggled so there's that. I get outside. Here in Colorado, we are still welcome to go outside and so it can be as small as walking around the block. It can be going outside to my garden. I find myself cooking as well. 

Deb Zahn: Cooking has been a big one for me. I just made an amazing pot of vegan chilly. That's right. Just because I've been watching my husband work so hard. And I've been working hard and I'm like we need to nourish ourselves. And when I'm chopping garlic and chopping carrots and doing all of those types of things, it's kind of hard to get easily distracted about fear and panic because right now I'm chopping vegetables. That's what I'm focused on and that's the mindfulness part of it. It’s not do it with the news on, the 24-hour news cycle that's constantly reminding me of how difficult things are.

Jan West: Exactly. I'm also realizing we're doing a fair bit of music around here.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Jan West: Both listening and I was imagining you chopping and I'm thinking, yeah, I tend to be kind of dancing around while I'm chopping because I have got something good going in.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I actually last night, and this is not a plug for Justin Timberlake at all, but I did look at the video. There's a video of his “Can't Stop The Feeling” and it's got people all over the world dancing to it.

Jan West: Nice.

Deb Zahn: It's lovely and I just wanted to remember that there are tons of beautiful things and then I sit back and I watch what my friends and I watch what my clients are doing, my amazing clients who are saving lives and doing everything in their power to make sure that their people in their communities are OK. And that brings balance to my life because I'm doing what Mr. Rogers said to do which is, or his mom said to do, which is to look for the helpers.

Jan West: That's right. That's a great thing. Look for the helpers! Good call out there.

Deb Zahn: And then be one. You can be one. That's where the magic comes in. 

Jan, I thank you so much for joining me today. When we talked the other day, I'm like, we need to have this conversation so that hopefully others can listen to it and take something from it. I want to say to everyone out there, all my listeners, do what you can to get through this. Obviously, listen to the experts, take the precautions, but each and every day do something that brings you joy, do something that brings you meaning. Figure out what your magic is and get your magic out in the world because everybody needs it. Amen to that, right?

Jan West: Nice. We love it, Deb, thanks. That was great.

Deb Zahn: You're welcome. All right. Well, thank you so much again and I am sure we'll talk again.

Jan West: Sounds good.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoy this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guest that are coming up and a lot of other great content. I don't want you to miss anything but the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is one is, if you have any comments or if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those and then the last thing is again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up. As always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at craftofconsulting.com. Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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