In light of the murder of George Floyd and the protests happening around the country, we’d encourage you to ask your Black colleagues how they and their family and community are doing right now. Read on to learn why it matters, and see our four-step guide to doing it well.
You understandably may be wary of talking politics at work, or just have no idea where to begin here. But for your colleagues of color, it’s exhausting to come to work and bury their anguish and heartache, and pretend everything’s just business as usual.
The simplest thing you can do right now to help is to support your colleagues with compassion — holding space for them, listening to understand, taking their perspective, and taking action to help where you can.
This will help your team feel supported, sure, but just as importantly will build psychological safety. This is the vulnerability trust that makes people feel connected and understood and is essential for an inclusive culture.
1. Express how sorry you are, and ask how they’re doing.
Ask how their family and community are doing. Some ideas of how to start:
“I’ve been really sad watching the protests and turmoil. How are you and your loved ones doing?”
“I’ve been thinking about you given all that’s happening right now with the George Floyd protests. How are you coping?”
“I’m heartbroken by what happened over the weekend, and I wanted to talk to you about it. How are you feeling?”
Dig in with follow-on questions to really understand their perspective and their emotions. Listen completely.
💡 Holding space means being all ears, practicing active listening. So when there is a pause, you can stay quiet for a few beats and see if they want to speak some more. Just like the whole conversation, every pause is for them, not a cue for you.
⚠️ A watch-out: remember it’s not their job to educate you or speak on behalf of the entire Black community. See below for resources to educate yourself on systemic racism.
2. If you like, you can share how you’re feeling.
This kind of vulnerability builds trust, and helps others open up more in return. You can also share your commitment to anti-racism.
⚠️ A watch-out: Don’t say “I know how you feel”, or jump in to turn the conversation around to you, no matter how well-intentioned. The reality is that you can’t know how they feel, and this conversation really should be about them, not you.
3. Ask if there’s anything you or the company can do to support them.
Offer time off or flexible hours to look after their mental health. If they’re feeling stressed by the pressure to deliver at work, see if you can reallocate work or push back deadlines to allow some breathing room.
4. Thank them for sharing their feelings with you.
It takes a lot of courage to open up, so acknowledge that. Reaffirm your commitment to supporting them through this.
⚠️ A watch-out:If they don’t want to talk right now, that’s OK. Follow their lead in the conversation and let them know you’re here if they do want to talk.
Know that this conversation is just the start, but you’ve made a positive step forward.
On this topic
How to manage your team in times of political trauma by Michelle Kim
It shouldn’t be my job to tell managers to talk about George Floyd by Natalia Eileen Villarmán
To educate yourself on systemic racism*
Anti-racism resources compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein (note that this itself is a treasure trove of further resources!
*It seems like an impossible task to curate a few resources here that can meaningfully explain a whole history of oppression and injustice — consider these a few places to begin to self-educate
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