Previously published on Forbes
Stress and Covid-19. They go together like skinned knees and band-aids. Whether you acknowledge it or not, it’s likely that you have an increased level of stress running in the background of your work-from-home situation. I know I do.
Learning to conduct all meetings on Zoom or Webex is harder than it seemed. Many of us are logging more hours than we ever imagined sitting in front of a screen trying to look interested and not multi-task. And tensions are rising among teammates as they struggle with communication breakdowns and increased workloads. Let’s face it — for many of us, our patience with working from home is waning. And that means bad behavior might be on the rise inside of you.
While everyone is adjusting to new ways of working, fear and anxiety are likely to be running the show for many of us. That said, it’s important to understand your own particular flavor of fear — what you are most fearful of or anxious about. If you are not aware of your individual response to fear, you risk making important decisions at work through your unconscious reaction rather than a clean and clear response.
Especially if you’re a leader, it’s essential during these turbulent and trying times that you understand how you react to fear so you can get a grip on yourself and be the leader you need to be for others.
Understanding Your Internal Operating System
One way to learn more about your fear response is through a well-validated personal development assessment. I find the Enneagram useful for this purpose because it creates a sense-making framework that goes deeper than a personality trait-based approach.
The modern interpretation of the Enneagram is credited to Bolivian-born philosopher Oscar Ichazo and one of his students, a Berkeley-based psychiatrist, who helped popularize the Enneagram in the U.S. By 1994, the model had gained enough credence that Stanford Medical School’s psychiatry department co-sponsored the first international Enneagram conference. with more than a thousand people in attendance.
I have been using the Enneagram for the past 15 years or so in my work with leaders to help them become more self-aware and in control of the choices they make when it comes to their reactions, their behavior and how they get their needs met in stressful situations.
The Enneagram is designed to reveal your internal operating system. It points to automatic and unconscious patterns you use to make decisions and get what you want, and what you do when you don’t get your way. This is critical information when you are navigating the virtual workplace.
The Enneagram also reveals your natural gifts, the ones that don’t go away even during a pandemic. Research shows that most humans bring out their best in a crisis. Knowing what your strengths are and how to leverage them to the benefit of your team or your organization can be incredibly useful right now.
If you have some line of sight into your own stress-based reactions and those of your team, you can catch when you are making decisions from fear and survival. If you know your natural gifts or contributions and those of your team, you can move the team away from survival and toward creative solutions with an eye to the future — even if you can’t quite see it clearly yet.
Making Sense of Yourself
The Enneagram has nine numbered types:
1. The Perfectionist
2. The Helper
3. The Performer
4. The Romantic
5. The Observer
6. The Skeptic
7. The Enthusiast
8. The Protector
9. The Peacemaker
One way to ferret out your true type, Enneagram experts say, is to read all nine descriptions and focus on the one that unsettles or embarrasses you.
For me, that’s three: The Performer. Under stress, I can become hyper-driven and abrupt; just ask my husband. I’m a do-it-myselfer, often isolating from people who might provide support and feedback. I notice when I’m worn out from the shenanigans happening in my house, I retreat to my WFH office upstairs. I close the door and do something comforting and familiar: work.
Threes also tend to be self-critical and demand high-performance from themselves no matter what. This is an obvious dilemma. For some unknown reason, the whole Covid-19 pandemic is making me more tired than I have been since I was the mother of three young children. It’s inexplicable. And so frustrating. But being hard on myself isn’t really going to help at all. Forcing myself to work when I really don’t have the energy for it is counterproductive.
This is where I’m thankful that I know my habits and patterns through the Enneagram. I can see myself in ways that add grace and simplicity. I make more sense to me. And when I see that I’m in an unproductive behavior pattern, I can generally stop and change the pattern. This is good news for my workmates and family.
These crazy times may be just the right time for you to increase your own knowledge and understanding of yourself. If you’re ready to take control and be the leader — and person — you want to be right now, check out this resource for getting your Enneagram type.