Adam Owen explains why a little empathy goes a long way
In many ways everything has changed since I last wrote for Personal Finance Professional magazine but equally, many things have stayed the same.
Plenty has been written about Covid-19 and I would not presume to know any more about it or what will happen in the coming months than anyone else outside of the scientific community.
What I would like to talk about is what I have seen in the first few weeks through the prism of a well-known behavioural model.
It is almost impossible to have attended any type of management or team-building course during the past 30 years and not come into contact with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
If you have, you will know that there are five layers of Maslow’s pyramid. Each layer represents a basic human need that must be satisfied to at least 80% before a person will be motivated to tackle the next layer. If any of the lower layers are threatened, the model suggests that we abandon what we are doing to focus on that lower layer.
This model has, as with many similar models, been contested, but for me it is not about whether it can be applied to all situations that is important. I am more interested in how the model can be used to make sense of people’s behaviour in the current situation and if so, will it help us to avoid rushing to judgement?
I ask this because, particularly on social media, there has been a lot of judgement about. In one example, a widely circulated post said that if you don’t learn something new or do something amazing during lockdown you will have wasted this time. Others responded saying that with three kids and home schooling they are just about keeping things together.
We are all at different stages of a shared experience and people will react and behave differently
This is just one example that shows us we are all experiencing the lockdown based on our own perspective. For some people who initially felt threatened at the lowest level of Maslow’s pyramid, physiological, they sought comfort in buying toilet roll and pasta. Those whose jobs or business are under threat, covered in the safety layer on Maslow’s model, will be able to focus on little else right now. Others who have satisfied the first two layers may be feeling isolated and will be seeking what Maslow referred to as belonging. The explosion of virtual quizzes is a good example of this.
The model goes on, but my point here isn’t really about Maslow’s theory. It is simply a tool that can explain that we are all at different stages of a shared experience and that people will react and behave differently.
When all of this is over, people will remember, above everything else, how you made them feel.
Rather than rushing to judgement I would urge everyone to step back and allow for the possibility that the other person’s motivation is not what you have applied to their action.
Ask: “What else can this mean?” The answer you come up with won’t change the other person’s behaviour but it may create space for more compassion in your reaction.
Adam Owen is president of the Personal Finance Society