Help Your Team Process Tragedies
A note to our international readers: we recognize that we have readers from around the globe, but our home is in the United States and tragedies at home run deep. Whether you are reading from the US or elsewhere, we invite you to lead with listening and with dialog.
Our future depends on it.
It’s easy to feel like you’re out of words.
We wrote after Ferguson, and just a few months later as more tragedies unfolded in Baltimore. And here we go again. Another brutal, senseless murder, followed by more tragedy and destruction.
We watch with heartbreak as the powder keg of social injustice, economic disparity, and racial tension explodes once again. But this time, spreading even faster, aggravated by our worn-down resiliency and virus-induced uncertainty and fear.
Your team members are watching too. None of us know exactly what to do or say.
Making Space For Grieving and Conversation
During normal circumstances, it’s pretty sound advice to stay away from politically contentious topics at work. We’re beyond that luxury now. Our nation is in crisis. People are grieving and angry and tired and scared. Asking employees (many of whom are still isolated at home) to “leave their troubles at the door” and focus on the customer like so much customer service training suggests, just isn’t going to work.
More than ever we need to really listen with our full hearts to every member of our teams.
A friend of ours is a physician who also serves in a variety of medical leadership roles in organizations and associations throughout the country. He is also Black. As we discussed everything that’s happening he told us that his organization had just reorganized and he got a new supervisor three weeks ago.
“Yesterday,” he said, “she texted me this…” He showed us the message:
I was catching up this evening to make sure you had access to the morning huddle starting tomorrow. Mostly though, and I know we haven’t worked together for long, I wanted to see how you are doing personally with everything currently happening. Please let me know if you need anything or how I can support you.
After we read the message, he continued, “In all the years of injustice and tragedy, she is the first leader I’ve ever had who acknowledged what was happening and asked me how I was doing with it.”
He paused to gather himself. “I can’t tell you how meaningful that was. My father was just diagnosed with the virus, my mother is at risk, I can’t help patients the way I want to, and on top of all of that, every day I see that picture of that man dying with a knee on his neck…”
“I imagine it was awkward for her. It’s certainly awkward for me. I don’t want to need help, but the fact is I do. Any sane person would. It may be awkward, uncomfortable, or imperfect, but we have to try. Try to connect. Try to support one another. I’m glad she did.”
We Have to Try: Listening During Tragedies and Crisis
We’re not experts on how to fix everything that’s broken, but we do know that in times of crisis people need a chance to say what’s on their minds and know they will be heard.
- Acknowledge and invite (I know this is a crazy time and we’re all experiencing this series of tragedies in different ways. If you want to talk, I’m here to listen.)
- Establish some ground rules for respectful dialogue.
- Allow some space (in times like these, members of your team may be rightfully distracted). Give them space to grieve.
It won’t be perfect. It will feel uncomfortable.
And we have to try.
This week James D’Silva of Smartbrief on Leadership, put out a direct challenge to leadership thinkers, “Why are leadership thinkers silent about Floyd and the protests?”