The stress of the pandemic has been difficult for everyone

A year of COVID-19 has brought out the best and worst of our views of humanity. 

The pandemic has escalated kindness to our neighbours. However, it’s also revealed concerns about people not faring well due to mental health, poverty, homelessness, addictions, and other issues.

In response, the City of Edmonton hosted a Zoom workshop called “Encouraging Positive Interactions” in early December. It was designed to give businesses and others knowledge and skills when dealing with people and situations that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or perhaps even threatening.

“These issues are part of any conversation about the city,” says community safety liaison Connie Marciniuk of the City’s Neighbourhood Empowerment Team and the workshop moderator.

Nova Winter, a supervisor of The Mustard Seed Neighbour Centre, shared advice. When she first started her job, she was sometimes apprehensive meeting the clientele. She soon learned that putting a name to a face was an important first step. “Business owners and staff learn a lot about their industry. It’s rare to have training on how to have positive interactions,” Winter says. “Knowing a person’s name creates a sense of safety that goes both ways.” 

If the situation is uncomfortable but not escalating, Winter emphasizes looking for “basic triggers.” Is the person hungry, thirsty, or needs a bathroom? Are there signs of agitation such as fidgeting, pulling off their clothes, picking at their face, or speaking loudly or confrontationally? 

“Points of no return” include physical aggression, unwanted touching, threats, weapons, violence and damaging of property. At this point, call the police, security, or some sort of assistance. 

“We can’t know everyone’s story,” says Megan Schuring, director of community development for The Mustard Seed. “Positive interactions are about building relationships.”

To encourage positive relationships, The Mustard Seed employs a FOCUS acronym. When approaching someone who may need our understanding, Schuring suggests we review the following:

F – first ask permission. Does this individual want your help? Do they want to chat privately with you? Maybe they just need a listening ear and empathy, or maybe they are asking for help and guidance. 

O – offer ideas, do not persuade. You can’t force someone to do what you think is the best option. If you try to persuade someone, you may end up making them more resistant to your idea. Let them evaluate what is the best option for themselves.

C – be concise, do not ramble. Be honest about what you can and can’t do, such as “I can’t promise that I can fix this situation, but I can promise to do all that I can and investigate all the options with you if you want.”

U – use a menu of options. It’s up to them which option they want to choose. Providing choice empowers people.

S – solicit their ideas and their feedback about what they think of your suggestions. 

The point is to de-escalate, says Nova Winter, who follows FOCUS steps herself. “The golden rule is to treat others as you want to be treated. You don’t have the power to fix or save. What you can do is listen and affirm someone’s feelings. Every individual is valuable; we are all human beings. Swap judgment for curiosity to find out more about that person’s story.”

A December workshop taught people how to create positive interactions. | Image by Pexels from Pixabay