If you’re feeling like a sloth one day and the Energizer Bunny the next, you’re not alone. Laura Grisolano ’86 is helping clients at her firm, Bridge Mediation & Leadership Solutions, grapple with a number of new work-from-home challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s as if 2020 is “a big Monopoly board that’s been knocked into the air and no one knows quite how to put the disrupted game back together,” Grisolano said. Worse yet, the basic rules don’t even appear to be the same. “My clients are really struggling with time and energy,” she said. “Weeks seem like months, but some days fly by before you’ve scratched the surface of your to-do list. No one knows what day of the week it is and everyone’s sleep schedules are disrupted.”
We asked Grisolano, a CMC trustee, to walk us through her work these past few months and how it’s been most changed because of the ongoing pandemic.
Alumni in action
- Laura Grisolano ’86
- President, Bridge Mediation & Leadership Solutions
- Phoenix, Arizona
How have you adapted your previous work into new strategies during this trying time?
My work with teams often starts with the same path I use with individual coaching clients—first deepen self-awareness, then add a few new insights to address recurring obstacles so you can bring your best, most-authentic, enthusiastic self to your work. (Most of the time.) With larger teams, I try to make sure that I am offering something helpful for every participant while also staying focused on the mission of the organization. My workshops are always custom designed around the team culture and the immediate challenges.
Pre-COVID, much of that work focused on internal obstacles—things like self-confidence, managing stress, overcoming self-doubt, improving communication skills, etc. Right now, however, there are very real external obstacles that are interrupting workflow. Concentration and staying focused on the tasks at hand are much more difficult in a work-from-home environment. People are home all day with spouses, roommates, parents, and their children, working at kitchen tables or desks or in closets, trying—nonetheless—to maintain an air of professionalism. Even harder, organizational work plans and priorities are changing faster than people can keep up, which leads to feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
Are there any strategies you are engaging with most?
Many of my programs are now focused on practical work-from-home strategies, as well as important mindset shifts: How do you remind yourself to practice patience, grace, gratitude, and authenticity? How can you use curiosity to bridge the gaps that feel difficult?
I work with teams and executive coaching clients on daily practices that will help even out the energy fluctuations and keep the energy flowing forward. Stress management tips are also in high demand. Many working professionals have never experienced the kind of day-to-day anxiety they are feeling right now. I love teaching people about the magical power of our built-in parasympathetic nervous system. Once you know how to use it, you can master your own breathing, calm your pounding heart, and stop the flow of those unhelpful stress hormones.
How do you prepare yourself to do this work and keep yourself in the right mental space? What practices from your personal/professional life do you try to pass onto others?
Honestly, my clients’ success stories keep me energized and in the right head space. There is nothing that makes me happier than supporting people on their path to success and contentment. Even when I am mediating a very difficult case or helping a department or start-up in crisis, I can see the potential for them just up ahead. I am fueled by client stories about new practices that make work more productive and satisfying.
Still, this upside-down year has often challenged my ability to “walk the talk” successfully. At the darkest moments of 2020, I have found a couple of practices to be especially helpful:
- Focusing on being of service, where “service” is very broadly defined. You can’t really mope when you are helping others. And there are an awful lot of folks who need our help right now.
- Curiosity and asking better questions. The older I get, the more I realize that this is the most important skill to hone. Curiosity helps us understand our own internal “stuff” without bringing any guilt or shame. For example, “Why am I feeling so low energy today?” and “Why didn’t I share my idea? What was I afraid of?” Curious questions also help us navigate a polarized political environment: “What is driving that person to act in ways that seem counter to their self-interest?” or “Why does that person not feel empathic toward that other person?” or “How can I show my (colleague/parent/neighbor) respect even though I vehemently disagree with them?”
- Centering practices and co-working sessions. I am a people person and I need the collective energy of other human beings. I am also very distracted by new, intriguing information. So, Zoom coworking sessions have been a godsend for me. I can be incredibly productive if I have a gallery view of good humans working on their own priority tasks. I’ve started hosting co-working sessions so others can benefit from the kind of supportive, quiet hive we used to get in coffee shops.
Mediation and conflict management work is even more important for virtual teams. With everyone working at home, we don’t have the chance to sit next to someone at lunch or pass them in the hallway. The small issues never get addressed and the big issues often result in work-from-home employees “checking out.” Once resentment takes hold, it’s like one of those difficult weeds in your backyard that spread across the lawn with tough roots below ground.
You’ve been doing this work since 2012. How does it continue to evolve? What do you think the pandemic—or just this moment in time—has released that will continue to affect many of us moving forward?
The work-from-home shift is already restructuring the way we think about the shape and nature of an “office.” At the moment, germ transmission risks are guiding office design but, in my view, the most interesting new ideas will have to do with how to nurture human connection. For example, many work-from-home parents now have deeper relationships with their children and will not want to surrender the opportunity to play games and take walks together. At the same time, we see how invaluable classroom teachers are and why being physically together deepens engagement and learning.
Arguably, the most important element to make everything better is connection. We need each other right now. Isolation makes all of our other challenges worse. Even for introverts who often prefer private working spaces. Sometimes clients need to be nudged into new strategies for getting emotional support—whether through Zoom calls with college friends, teleconference walks with your workmates, or taking an online baking class with your grown children. Starting Facebook or Slack groups around shared issues can be an incredible tool to feel less alone.
Has there been a moment with your clients from the past few months that’s given you hope?
I have been busiest with executive coaching clients who see this as a moment to take stock, re-evaluate the personal game plan, and pivot to accommodate what they’ve discovered during the pandemic. My in-person workshops for the year were all canceled, but are slowly coming back in a new online format as people realize this is a marathon not a sprint. For start-ups, small businesses, and family organizations, I’m offering special “recovery rates” to help them get back on track.
But perhaps my proudest quarantine moment was an email from a long-time client based in the Bay Area. The state-mandated closures meant that her gymnastics studio and sports training program was in serious danger of bankruptcy. They burned through their PPP funds and hit July without much hope of survival, but continued to serve thousands of families in the East Bay. My client sent me a note about how her team was pulling together, working way above and beyond expectations, to keep the organization afloat. She thanked me for giving her leadership team the sense of camaraderie and the collaboration tools to get through these enormous challenges. I’m still helping the firm raise funding, but their prospects look better and better.