Fear is ascendant.

A couple months ago, I wrote a column titled, “What Is It Time for Now?” And this week, as I sat down to write another one, I again asked myself, What is it time for now?

I started by rereading that earlier one.

How naïve it seems, in light of COVID-19’s terrible toll: 114,000 deaths and more than 2 million confirmed cases in the U.S. alone. It’s quaint in its suggestion that baking a cake will somehow provide relief for what has turned into more than 30 million unemployed, a devastated economy and an outcry for racial justice that is hundreds of years in the making.

The pace, rate and scale of change in the past three months have been mind-boggling. Soundbites on social media betray the incomprehensible nature of it all.

  • “I didn’t care for the first season of 2020; I hope the second is better.”
  • “Remember the impeachment trial? That was January!”
  • “Oh, and when Australia was on fire? February.”

As good as my nana’s cake is, what we need now is far more elemental than chocolate.

Like many of us in marketing, I am drawn to Maslow and his hierarchy. The highest order is self-actualization, and much of the work our industry does involves turning every product into one that will achieve it.

But right here, right now, it’s not about that. The combined traumas of 2020 leave us with more fundamental concerns. Will I or someone I love get sick or possibly die? Will I have a job? Will I ravage my savings? What if I can’t retire? How do I protect my health and my job? How will I pay my bills? What will happen if I don’t? Will my business survive? When can I see my family again or get together with friends?

And for some of you, it’s become all too painfully clear that it’s even worse: Will you be hurt, arrested, threatened or killed because of the color of your skin?

The truth is that today our lives are full of fear.

Fear is a powerful force. In spite of millennia of evolution, our reptilian brains still prioritize scanning for threats to our safety and survival. In fact, of the approximately 86 billion neurons in our brain, at least 80% of them are hard-wired to identify, differentiate and respond to threats, perceived or real.

At AHA, we do quite a bit of work in the world of change management, and we know that when people are concerned about disruptions in their personal lives, their ability to contribute at work goes down accordingly.

That’s as true at the top of the ladder as it is on the lowest rung. It affects everyone.

I can’t find any recent data about how the events of 2020, and the distractions and concerns that come with them, have affected employee engagement, but I have to guess the impact is off the charts.

So what is it time for now?

It’s time to build trust.

The opposite of fear is not calm. It’s trust. It’s having faith that what you believe is true actually comes to pass. It increases confidence and, yes, instills calm.

We need to recommit to the tiny actions that have big impacts in building more trusting relationships in every aspect of our business.

It’s time to create pockets of safety and knowingness, where the people we work with, buy from and sell to can let their guard down a bit. Where they can exhale and open their minds to something other than sensing for danger. Where they can welcome you in as a resource, a partner, a friend.

Are you a supplier, a service provider, a manufacturer? A boss, a co-worker, a mentor? A marketer, a sales professional or a customer service rep? Whatever your domain, your job, your relationship—if you can generate more trust today than you had yesterday, in no time in recent memory has there been a better time to do it.

Your efforts will pay extra dividends right now, but that’s not the only reason this is the right time.

Do it because it reciprocates and grows. Because you too have been affected by the craziness of the world. Trust works both ways.

When you build trust, you also buy it. It’s yours. A pocket of safety in a world of dangers.

Exhale. Expand. Repeat.

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