Understanding What Your Clients Are Going Through And How You Can Respond--Understanding the Cycle of Disruption, Anxiety, and Grief


By Jonathan Paul of Jonathan Paul Consulting

We are naming creatures. Naming something is how we come to understand our world, because naming allows us familiarity with the elements, structures, creatures, phenomena, and forces of our world. With familiarity comes predictability. Naming is one of the means by which we subdue and exercise dominion over our worlds. When we can name something, we feel more in control of our world; and as a result, we feel safe, or at least safer. What we cannot name, that which is unfamiliar, and therefore unpredictable, makes us feel vulnerable.

Experts in particular fields of study spend a good deal of time subduing what they are studying by naming it. It’s why we turn to experts to help us when we do not understand the things that are happening to us and inside us. It’s why, for example, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has become a central figure in our current pandemic, because he has helped us understand more about the nature of the coronavirus and the implications of its spread. He has named our threat and given us a means to control what we can.

What is currently threatening us has not yet fully been subdued, and as a result we continue to feel the disruption of our lives. But what is happening inside us as we face the loss of control of the cadence, rhythm, and autonomy of our lives? What about the vocational, financial, familial, and relational disruptions the last three weeks have brought? Let’s spend a few minutes naming what we are all experiencing right now and then discuss ways you can respond that will allow you to navigate your interactions with your clients.

Disruption: A sudden disturbance or problem affecting an activity, event, or process.

What they are experiencing: Disruption The previous three weeks has affected nearly every business activity, event, and the process. As a result, clients are both trying to process what has happened and develop new routines.

What you want to know: New routines—new processes, new ways of interacting, new ways of being—require your brain to use more energy because new neural pathways are being formed. Your brain loves to conserve energy and embedded routines allow your brain to do so (Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner). New routines are effortful because new learning requires effort and energy. This combined with anxiety can be overwhelming

How you can respond: You are in the helping relationship business: Roll up your sleeves; it’s time to pitch in, lending your heart, mind, and hands to your client’s business.

  • Name the number of new routines your clients are currently faced with creating (project management, employee interaction, governance, financial management) and help them create, adapt, and embed new learning. New routines can take up to three months to establish.
  • Discuss the process of creating new processes with your clients first by naming what is happening (what new learning means) and collaboratively creating a plan to implement and manage new processes and new ways of being.
  • It takes physical energy to manage our emotions. Instruct your clients in self-care: That they must manage their physical energy by incorporating new physical routines: sleep, exercise, and diet that allow for more energy consumption.

Anxiety: Anticipation of a future threat that causes worry, nervousness, or dread

What they are experiencing: Anxiety Your clients are experiencing new levels of apprehension, worry, nervousness, or dread as they anticipate threats they may face to their competence, comfort, or well-being.

What you want to know: Anxiety is the most common disorder from a clinical perspective, experienced at varying levels by all of us. It is treatable and manageable for both yourself and for your clients.

How you can respond: Anxiety is contagious, but so is hope. Now is the time to focus your energy into the present and not allow it to be drained by anticipating future threats.

  • Practice Presence: Existing fully and responding in the familiar of the here and now. You absolutely must be fully present in order to ease the anxiety of your clients. Our client’s anxiety is reduced when WE CREATE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT for them to externalize, to convey their concerns and worries.  You can only create a safe environment for your clients by being fully present—see below for primer—which requires you being fully aware of and managing your own responses to this situation, and by not projecting your own unconscious fears into your interactions.
  • To Gain Presence: Do a 60-second Re-set: Sit comfortably in a chair, feet flat, palms up or down on your knees, back straight, eyes closed, and put your hand on your stomach (diaphragm). Take 3-5 deep breaths from your diaphragm and bring to mind your favorite vacation spot or a favorite room and mentally spend time there. This will reset your sympathetic nervous system. Make sure you do it for 60 seconds and do it before EVERY client call—it will make a world of difference to them.
  • Use Reflective Listening Skills in every interaction with clients. Clients want and need to be HEARD now. They are not necessarily looking for solutions; they need to be heard and understood. Reflective listening sounds like summarizing what you hear the client saying at regular intervals in the conversation: “Here is what I hear you saying…. What I’m hearing is ….”
  • Make Meaning, Guidance if Appropriate, Be Wary of Giving Advice All of us want to understand what this crisis means for our businesses and our lives. You have a listening ear, a compassionate heart and a willing spirit, and a capable and educated mind; but you don’t have all the answers right now. You are beginning a journey together with your clients of discovery and collaboration as you find your way through this together.
  • Practice Actionable Compassion: Compassion means to suffer with. By exercising compassion on behalf of your clients, you are treating them as brother and sister, fellow human being, and friend. Let compassion look like tangible concrete actions on their behalf. You may have to lend free time to them doing whatever it takes to help their business succeed.

Grief: Experiencing the loss of what was

What they are experiencing: Grief The loss of what was my life: my routines, my finances, my job, my well-being. Loss is a very real thing for each of us and often needs professional mediation.

What you want to know: Grief comes in stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The stages are not always in order and in fact grief can be cyclical, repeating itself. Understand what you yourself are experiencing and allow yourself to be at peace with it.

How you can respond: With empathy, and no agenda.  If we do not work through the Stages of Grief, we may not get to acceptance. As David Kessler, author with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross on the Stages of Grief, said, “Acceptance (of our situation, loss) is where the power is because that is when we begin to feel in control again, focusing on what we can do right now.” (HBR, 2020)

  • Help your clients name what they are experiencing as they are grieving and allow them room to do so. A friend in grief is a friend forever.


The Cycle
Disruption: A sudden disturbance or problem affecting an activity, event, or process
Anxiety: Anticipation of a future threat that causes worry, nervousness, or dread
Grief: Experiencing the loss of what was

Jonathan PaulJonathan Paul of Jonathan Paul Consulting has been a consultant and strategist for the commercial insurance and surety industry, the accounting industry, the legal profession, Fortune 500 and private companies for the past 30 years. His practice specializes in helping organizations develop future leaders with identity based tools and best practices. His passion is equipping leaders to grow their practices and organizations. Paul integrates his background in vocational and clinical psychology with best engagement practices learned from the work he and his team have done with 825 companies. He can be reached at or 240.505.4058.