Communicating is particularly challenging right now. As we face the effects of the coronavirus, institutional racism, political upheaval and economic uncertainty, our clients, co-workers and employees are experiencing increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression. It’s harder for people to process information when they’re stressed, and it’s more important than ever to demonstrate support for our teams.
When we are experiencing challenges, we look to our institutions to support and protect us. When instead they communicate inconsistently (or not at all), that creates a breach of trust that can take years to overcome.
To communicate effectively with those in trauma, there are five important steps we should take.
We can’t communicate effectively with people if we don’t know their concerns. For example, a recent survey found that 100% of employees were worried about their workplaces reopening. In this scenario, before we can discuss a solution, we must first understand what each concern is. The reasons for the concern varied, including risk for the coronavirus, lost flexibility and a return to the commute. It is essential that we understand an individual’s actual concern so that we may be more specific and helpful in our responses. This can be accomplished through listening via surveys, listening sessions or one-on-one interviews.
Once people have shared their concerns, acknowledge that you’ve heard them. Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” An acknowledgement can be as simple as, “Thank you for sharing that,” or “I’m sorry, that sounds hard.”
It’s important to acknowledge each of the concerns shared. For instance, following a survey you could send out a memo detailing, “Some of you were concerned about increased risk of contracting the coronavirus, some about lost flexibility and others about returning to the commute.”
One of the hardest things about going through a traumatic experience is the loss of control. With the coronavirus, our work and home lives have been turned upside down, seemingly overnight. It’s been difficult to make plans or feel confident about our actions because the landscape is constantly changing.
One way we can give back some control is by sharing information. Sharing facts, the process going forward (including how decisions will be made) and relevant organizational values can be helpful.
The individual who is experiencing trauma will need to find a way to move forward on their own. One way to help is by providing resources. It’s important to share information about security, counseling and flexible work resources, as we don’t always know who needs them. It’s also a good idea to be familiar with community resources. There is a list of such resources, like the suicide hotline and where to find a domestic violence shelter, for the United States on my website; for those outside the U.S., this can be a helpful start on good resources to know in your area.
The final step is to return — both to the person in trauma and to yourself. This means literally going back to the person who shared their concerns with you to see if they need more information and show that you continue to be a resource.
It also means taking the steps to come back to equilibrium yourself. It can be challenging to hear stories of trauma. We have to practice self-care, talk about our own struggles and recognize any signs that might indicate we are spread too thin. We can’t help others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.
WATCH THE WEBINAR
Communicating With Compassion in Times of Crisis
Learn more about the tools and practical advice you need to effectively communicate with those in trauma in this webinar from Katharine Manning.
Communicating with compassion in times of crisis is not easy, but with thoughtful planning can be done effectively — which helps you, your organization and those in crisis.