To say that Covid-19 has rocked the U.S. economy is an understatement. Every day, we read headlines about how quickly the coronavirus is spreading, the rising death toll, and how more and more employees losing their jobs.

Of course, this type of news triggers a huge amount of anxiety. As an employer, how can you help your people cope?

One way is by using emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions--both your own and those of others. Put more simply, it's the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Emotional intelligence can be especially beneficial during a time of crisis as it can help you avoid panic and think rationally. It can also help you to connect with your people on an emotional level.

So, how can you use your emotional intelligence?

Here are three tips to start you off:

Listen carefully.

You can help your people by giving them an opportunity to speak freely about what they're going through. Ask them how they're dealing with the current situation, and how they feel about everything that's going on.

Now comes the hard part: Listen.

Resist the urge to judge the person or their feelings, to interrupt, or to propose a solution. Instead, focus on understanding the how and the why: how the person feels, and why they feel that way. 

Individuals will vary greatly as to how they process the current situation, and their feelings will vary as well. That's why you want to avoid responses like:

  • I know exactly how you feel. 
  • You shouldn't feel that way!
  • Isn't that an overreaction?

Instead, say things like this:

  • I can imagine how you may feel. 
  • I'm so sorry to hear what you're going through.
  • Thanks for sharing this. Tell me more. 

Sharing emotions isn't easy, so help build trust by thanking them for being open and honest. Depending on the person, you may use discerning questions to draw them out further.

Show empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the thoughts or feelings of another. But this is easier said than done.

Why? Simply put, because you may feel much differently about the situation than your colleague.

For example, considering the Covid-19 pandemic, your employees are obviously thinking about how the situation affects them and their families. But as an employer or team leader, you may have a bigger-picture view. You might know other employees who you feel have things worse. You may even get frustrated with an employee, thinking they are too self-centered or unwilling to see things from your perspective.

However, it's important to remember that empathy begets empathy. When a person feels understood, they are more likely to reciprocate your efforts and try to understand you.

The key to exercising empathy is to find a way to relate to the person's feelings, rather to their situation.

If they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, don't compare their situation to yours (or to others'). Instead, think of how this situation--or another one--makes you feel similarly anxious or overwhelmed.  

Once you find a way to connect with the other person's feelings, you're ready to take the next step.

Do what you can.

We hear a lot about the need to show authenticity in the workplace. Here's a chance to practice.

Ask the other person what you can do to help. If you can reasonably accommodate their request, do so. If not, be honest: It doesn't help anyone to make promises you can't keep. 

But with a little more discussion, maybe you can find another way to help. Also, communicate clearly what efforts you're making to try and keep the business afloat, and to try to help keep as many people employed as possible.

If you're a restaurant owner, for example, social distancing is no doubt causing a vast reduction in your customers. But can you adjust? Is it possible to offer takeout and delivery? Can you alter shifts or responsibilities so that employees can continue to support the business, and you can continue to pay them?

Covid-19 is presenting business owners with unprecedented challenges. But these challenges are also opportunities to put your emotional intelligence to work. Doing so will help you to connect with your people, to take your relationships to the next level, and to pull together. 

And right now, that's exactly what all of us need.