Gib's Blog

How To Handle Fear And Angst During A Pandemic Part 1: Applying The Tools Of A Master Trainer

By Way of Explanation:  This is the first in a series of blogs about managing personal and professional challenges brought to us by the COVID pandemic.  It’s about applying tools traditionally used in a typical work setting in a different way.  These are tools I’ve come to use as a facilitator and Master Trainer and I’ve come to believe they are imminently useful in the current “There is no ‘Normal’…” environment. I know that those who may read this have brains that are wired very differently than mine (as no two minds are the same), so let me give you the layout of what follows, and depending on how you prefer to think, let you jump to the bit(s) that appeal to you:

  1. Me and the Data, a brief background story on how I got here, and some of the data associated with the pandemic,
  2. A little bit of Philosophy and Psychology,
  3. Tools and Their Uses I’ll be discussing in more detail in future blogs for application to pandemic challenges, and
  4. A brief Conclusion.

Me and the Data

 As I write this, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, greater than 600,00 people worldwide are reported to have died from complications associated with the Coronavirus and the disease Covid-19, with 144,050 (or 23%) of those deaths occurring in the United States.  And these deaths are ‘excess deaths’, over and above the statistical norm for what we have seen for daily deaths in this country.   With infections increasing, and no vaccine available, we see restrictions being imposed on all aspects of our lives, via legal mandate, corporate requirements and personal choice. People I know personally have lost loved ones to the virus.  Other friends and acquaintances are unemployed, and still others fear returning to past work practices and workplaces out of concern for contracting a disease that has killed 7% of those who contracted it in the United States (and for whom an outcome is known).2  Certainly what were “normal” routines in our lives previously, are no longer possible, let alone “normal”. 

Being in a slightly higher risk category, I’ve developed a weird sort of paranoia about coming in contact with people if I feel compelled to go out for necessities as I truly have no desire to get sick and die.  Even if it’s only a 7% chance, that’s waaayyy too high for a low risk-taker like me.  But I CAN safely say my current interactions with the world are dramatically different than before the Covid Pandemic. This has often-times (until recently) left me confused, uncertain and less productive than I was prior to the Covid Pandemic.  I needed to do SOMETHING to break my cycle of negative thinking.

Philosophy and Psychology

Until the Covid Pandemic hit, my wife and I both traveled extensively for work, but we’ve been effectively homebound teleworking as best we can since March 6, 2020.  The work we do with teams and individuals has always been face to face, as we both believe that is the most effective modality for efficient team development. That being said, we have had to come up with innovative ways to deliver contracted work to clients we cannot currently visit in-person, or work in direct contact with their teams.  We’ve worked to “virtualize” a huge percentage of what we do, with moderate success and in the process learned some extraordinary things about what is possible when we no longer live “normal” (aka “Pre-Pandemic”) lives.  The first is that a lot of what we do working with people and teams CAN be done remotely and virtually.  The second of these extraordinary things is that the very tools we used to bring to people to learn and apply to help their organizations in Pre-Pandemic times are also exceptionally powerful in helping us deal with our personal challenges in the absence of any new “normal”.

This idea really isn’t that new. Any good facilitator knows that if they fully internalize the tools they use and teach- making those tools a part of their personal DNA, then they become far more effective at delivering those tools and techniques to others, regardless of the venue.  What my “Ah ha!” moment has been recently is that in my pandemic induced fear and angst, I had sort of reverted to the lower 3 levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, looking to satisfy physiological, safety and belonging needs as a response to dealing with right here and now, instead of employing the higher order parts of my brain to self-actualize and DO something about it.  I know my family and I are not alone, and that many others have responded in a similar fashion. I also know we are extremely fortunate, as unlike for some folks, our physiological needs ARE being satisfied, we ARE safe, we CAN communicate and share our lives with the ones we care about…it just looks really different.  So, what can we do to help others?  We can show how to use proven professional tools and techniques to assist individuals and teams in moving forward.  We can help them redefine a new normal.

Tools and Their Uses

This is actually the title of a movie shown to me in an Industrial Arts class when I was in the 8th grade in rural Vermont.  Tools are generally designed for a specific use, and it pays to know what that designed-for use in order to maximize the efficacy of the tool.  But humans are amazing creatures, we have opposable thumbs, we can modify our tools.  If a tool doesn’t work, then we might be able to modify it, making use of it in a different context while still adhering to the foundational intent and design.  After all, if I have a tool I can’t use, then effectively it’s a useless tool.  So I’ve looked at the tools in my “Master Trainer Tool Box”, selected just a few that I’ve found most useful in applying to relieving my fear and angst.  Future blogs will discuss the following helpful tools;

  1. A variety of de Bono Thinking Systems® Tools including Parallel Thinking (known most commonly as the Six Thinking Hats®). Lateral Thinking and The Power of Perception TM,
  2. Emergenetics®, and
  3. A variety of Franklin Covey Tools including the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People© and the Speed of Trust©

Conclusion: Organizing our thinking can help us stabilize our emotional response and deal rationally and constructively with the pandemic.  All we need are tools to do so… Therefore, my next blog will be about using the Six Thinking Hats® of Dr. Edward de Bono to help us think in parallel about the challenges we face and help formulate positive action in this time of pandemic.

(For more on the Six Thinking Hats® and other de Bono Thinking Systems® tools, please visit  To learn about Emergenetics®, please visit .)

Gib's Blog

How To Handle Fear And Angst During A Pandemic Part 2: Organizing Our Thoughts Using Parallel Thinking- the Six Thinking Hats®

I honestly believe that organizing our thoughts about the pandemic or events that arise from it can help us handle our emotional response to our situation and may help prevent that “run-away train” effect we sometimes have when we’re fearful or uncertain.  One of the premier tools I believe for organizing our thinking is that of “Parallel Thinking” developed by Dr. Edward de Bono and presented quite succinctly in his book, Six Thinking Hats (Little, Brown & Co., New York, 1985).  I encourage you to read his book. The Six Thinking Hats® is one of the foundational tools of the de Bono Thinking Systems®.

We’ve become accustomed, even trained and rewarded for “Traditional Thinking”, characterized by debate, argument and making OUR points/counter-points.  The challenge with this way of thinking is that as we look at an issue we’re:

  • constantly listening to respond,
  • raising defenses,
  • making isolated decision (not being as collaborative as we could), and
  • are busy forming our own argument. 

I think this becomes exacerbated in the pandemic environment where we don’t necessarily see (or even know) the person with whom we’re “chatting” and, through the use of social media, we can find a host of folks (real or not) who agree with our perspective, whether or not it’s well thought out or balanced. We’re not sharing what we know and combining the best of our thinking, we’re merely talking “at” each other.  Even more to the point, in a pandemic-stressed world, when I’m doing my own, individual thinking, my pandemic-induced angst keeps me jumping from one perspective or another; never settling long enough to take action.  The conversation in my brain when I’m thinking about life in this pandemic world sounds like this: “Wow, this is really bad.  That’s not going to work.  Oh, look, there’s someone that actually has a really positive impact!  Man, I am so worried about getting sick. Maybe I can make my OWN disinfectants.  How are my clients feeling? What is the National Center for Health Statistics saying about infection rates? What am I going to do today?”  I have a hard time organizing these racing thoughts with my traditional thinking, where I’m creating and hearing arguments in my own head and not generating solutions.

Parallel thinking is fundamentally different.  It brings structure when addressing an issue. When we think in parallel, we’re all going to look at it from the same perspective, give our thoughts from that perspective, then move on to a new perspective.  In Dr. de Bono’s book, he uses the analogy of looking at a house, and deciding what to do with the house.  In Traditional thinking, we’re all standing around the house, some of us in front, some of us inside, some of us in the back, some of us may even be on the roof!  Each of us with our unique opinion from our perspective of the house. If I ask everyone, “Describe the house”,  I’ll get this cacophony of very different images of the house, making it difficult to integrate all of the information, and collaborate.  In parallel thinking, we do one thing at a time, which allows us to be efficient in organizing our thinking and deciding what to do.  So, in parallel thinking, we’ll have everyone stand together in front of the house. Now, when we describe the house, though we have different thoughts about it, we’re giving those thoughts from the shared perspective of looking at the front of the house.  Excellent.  Now, everybody to the back of the house….etc.   Our thinking will be now be organized in such a way that we can deal with the house more easily, and get a much richer participation in the conversation.  When I think about issues associated with the pandemic,  can I do the same thing; use a framework that helps me shift perspectives and keep my thinking organized?  The answer is, “Yes! Use the Six Thinking Hats.”

As a brief summary, the Six Thinking Hats® provide a parallel thinking framework of six perspectives for organizing our thinking; Blue Hat, White Hat, Red Hat, Yellow Hat, Black Hat and Green Hat.  The hats themselves serve as a metaphor for organizing our thinking.  Think about when you played “pretend” as a child.  When you put on the Fireman’s Hat or Astronaut’s Helmet or the Bus Driver’s Hat, you WERE the Fireman, Astronaut or Bus Driver.  Wearing that professional’s hat reminded you THAT was the job you were doing, and you were able to stay in that role as you played.  If we ALL wore that hat, then we share that perspective.  The same is true of the Six Thinking Hats.  If I remind myself of the color of the hat and its corresponding perspective, it’ll be easier for me to stay within that perspective while looking at an issue.  More importantly, if I use a sequence of the Hats, i.e. a variety of Hats in a pre-arranged order, to actually organize my thinking. I can focus on one perspective at a time, knowing that I’ll get through ALL of the perspectives, and bring some order to the chaotic thoughts buzzing around my brain. This allows me to develop actionable ideas that will move me forward in addressing what’s challenging me. To work with the Hats, I use prompts, (i.e. a statement to respond to or a question to answer to focus my thinking) for each perspective.  The Hats and their prompts might look like this :

Blue Hat (The Hat of Process): I will focus my thinking on ______, using this sequence of Hats.

Red Hat (The Hat of Intuition and Emotion): How am I feeling about ______?  What does my intuition say?

White Hat (The Hat of Information): What’s the latest information I have? What Information do I need to get?  Where do I go get it?

Yellow Hat (The Hat of Benefits and Feasibility): What’re the benefits, and the upside to this situation?

Black Hat (The Hat of Risk, Difficulties and Problems): What are the Risks, Difficulties and Problems?  What are the challenges or the downside to this situation?

Green Hat (The Hat of Possibilities and Alternatives): What ideas come to mind to augment the upside or mitigate the downside of the situation?

Red Hat: How am I feeling NOW?

Blue Hat: What will I do next with these new ideas?  As a result of my thinking, I will take the following the actions…

This is the simplest sequence I use to deal with “pandemic-induced angst”.  Let’s apply it to a real life scenario: Dealing with quarantine and “stay at home” orders.

            Blue Hat: I need to focus my thinking on how to handle quarantine/stay at home orders.

            Red Hat: Wow!  I’m nervous! And just a little fearful…

            White Hat: I know it’ll be measured in weeks or months, not days. I need to find out how restrictive the quarantine orders are; What does the Governor’s order say about leaving the house?  I need to read the actual orders and amendments. What’s my Company’s Covid-19 Policy?  I need to read it.

            Yellow Hat:  You know, there’s a BUNCH of things I’d like to get done around the house. I might have time to take up a new hobby! I can practice my musical instrument(s). I can finally binge watch Downton Abbey!

            Black Hat: I’ll run out of food, because I only have a weeks’ worth of fresh food in the house.  Oh, and “necessities” like TP, hand sanitizer, and paper towels.  I might get bored with so much time on my hands. My work! My job has always been face to face in the office! I won’t be able to visit my friends and family.

            Green Hat (To leverage my Yellow Hat Thinking):  Make a list of ALL the things I have to do around the house, and all the things I’d LIKE to do while I have to “stay at home”.  I could prioritize the lists themselves and the items on the list, and develop a “rewards structure” for crossing things off the lists. 

Green Hat (To address my Black Hat Thinking): Research on-line order and delivery in my area, including costs and convenience.  Make a menu for the next month or two and develop a time-phased shopping list. I can inventory my “consumables” and determine when to order. I can call/text friends and family, share ideas on what technologies we might use for virtual get togethers: Happy Hours? Shared Movie times?  And set dates! I could make a “T-Chart” of all the things I have to do for work, separating them into what I can do virtually and what must wait until I can be face to face.  I could share the T-chart with my supervisor.

Red Hat:  Relieved!  I can actually start DOING something!

Blue Hat: Next step is to make all of the lists from my Green Hat Thinking, and prioritize them.

THERE!  Actions I can sink my teeth into, and make progress in dealing with my fear of being cooped up for weeks on end.  I’ve used the same Six Hats tool I have been teaching teams to use to improve the efficacy of their meetings and interactions to organize my own thinking to address my own challenges. 

But, now my interactions with others look very different than they did pre-Pandemic, so how can I ensure those go well, when I can’t necessarily look them in the eye every day?  In my next blog, I’ll discuss exactly that; using the psychometric tool, Emergenetics® to help me improve my personal interactions when there is no “normal”. And there are additional de Bono Thinking Systems™ tools I could use to be more creative and effective in my interactions.  More on these in my next segments.

(For more on the Six Thinking Hats® and other de Bono Thinking Systems® tools, please visit  To learn about Emergenetics® before my next blog, please visit .)