Being Empathetic During a Pandemic

Being Empathetic During a Pandemic article image

Contributed by: Catherine M. Seeber, CFP®, CeFT®.
A Certified Financial Transitionist (CeFT®) is trained to help clients navigate through major life events and the financial transitions that accompany them. The CeFT®is the industry’s first designation specifically geared toward financial change and transition.

During times when the anxiety level is high, and well-being is at risk, the potential for fear-based decisions, or indecision, is at an all-time high. In fact, it is so heightened that we can actually get in our own way. Please allow me to share some sequential steps that have helped me during client conversations. These same steps are essential when communicating with your loved ones:

1. Let them talk Give the person you are conversing with the time and space to tell the story of how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. This helps you understand what they think is at stake. Let them explain what they think it means to them and their business, health and family. This is more about feelings than facts at this point, so asking open-ended questions and listening deeply to the responses is paramount. This is not the time to take notes or to interrupt. When someone is struggling with their story and pauses, looking for words, resist the temptation to fill in their blanks or prompt them. Allow them to say what they need to say at their own pace.

2. Normalize Once the full story is told, whatever their experience is, it needs to be normalized. Your job isn’t to agree with anything, but simply to assure them that what they are experiencing is okay. They frequently feel like they’re “crazy,” or that they shouldn’t be feeling the way they do, but no feeling is ever crazy or bad. Feelings, like thoughts, are just things to be considered; they are objects of our attention. Normalizing stabilizes people and can position them to begin to recover higher cognitive functioning.

3. Name In writing, list the concerns from their story. The list doesn’t have to be in any particular order; you’ll get to that next. For now, simply say “Let’s make a list of what’s going on.” The most important guidance here is to use the words they used rather than paraphrasing. This type of naming acknowledges you’ve heard them. If they say they’re “flipping out” or “angry,” use those words.

4. Organize Once the concerns are named and listed, you can move on to sorting and organizing them. Organizing occurs in two parts: the level of the threat to well-being and the ability to control the situation.

5. Prioritize There are one of two reactions to their list: either everything is equally urgent, or one thing is the focus to the exclusion of all else. To mitigate those reactions, use a now, soon, and later process structured by timeline and urgency.

Use this time to also reach out to your inner you. “The greatest gifts you can give someone are your time, your love, and your attention.”

Catherine M. Seeber is a Vice President and Financial Advisor with CAPTRUST. She can be reached at