When a news event captures our collective global attention, how should we as leaders and managers deal with it? Your employees need you to leave now. But it can be difficult to know what to do or say. If you find yourself at a loss, the author offers three easy steps: 1) Contact your direct reports. A simple question at the beginning of a one-on-one conversation, such as, ‘Have you been following the news? Do you know anyone who has been affected?” can reveal an unexpected connection that someone might not have thought they could share. 2) Make room to talk in a meeting. Once you acknowledge the elephant in the room, you release some of the tension and let people focus on their work again. Your goal is to be compassionate and understanding. 3) Give people the opportunity to take action. Research ways to help that align with your organization’s values and provide credible resources for employees to get involved.
How do we manage our teams when a global geopolitical crisis weighs heavily on our minds? Atrocities take place almost every day all over the world. Unless something has touched us or someone on our team personally, we don’t normally start our morning staff meeting with a moment of silence. But when a singular event captures our collective global attention, how do we as leaders and managers deal with it?
My colleague Jon Haber, a fellow adjunct teacher at Harvard Kennedy School and president of Cascade Strategy, recently shared a thought that resonated deeply with me: “As a leader, every time you communicate, you speak through a megaphone. Our words are actions. ”
When you’re in a position of authority, your words have special weight and you can use them to fuel fear or create a supportive culture. But it can be difficult to know what to do or say. If you find that you don’t remember, start with these three easy steps.
1. Check in with your employees individually.
We cannot make assumptions about how people feel or who in their network is affected. Talk to your direct reports individually to get an idea of who is being victimized. Ask if there is anything they need or how you can support them.
A simple question at the beginning of a one-on-one conversation, such as, ‘Have you been following the news? Do you know anyone who has been affected?” can reveal an unexpected connection that someone might not have thought they could share.
This new HBR article from author Sarah Noll Wilson offers helpful advice for dealing with emotional conversations. “Sometimes people don’t know what they need, they may be afraid to ask, or they don’t know what options are available to them,” she writes. “You might ask, ‘Would X be helpful?’ Offering them a specific way to support them can make it easier for someone to say yes to accepting help.”
2. Make room to talk in a meeting.
I remember giving a workshop to a group of public school principals a few hours after they received the news that their annual budget would be cut, not expanded, for the next year. To say they were distracted would be an understatement.
If something weighs heavily on people’s minds, your meeting will be ineffective unless you address it. Sometimes we need to start by acknowledging the news and giving people space to discuss the matter if they want to. Once you acknowledge the elephant in the room, you release some of the tension and let people focus on their work again.
Your goal is to be compassionate and understanding, not to get into politics, mislead people, or force anyone to say something. You might start your weekly conversation by saying, “I want to take a moment to acknowledge what’s happening. I am certainly distracted and concerned by it. Who else feels this way?”
3. Give people the opportunity to take action.
Many of us feel helpless in the face of a crisis, but there are ways we as individuals can collectively make a difference. Research ways to help that align with your organization’s values and provide credible resources for employees to get involved. Ask them which organizations they support and have them devote some of their working time to volunteering. Many organizations match their employees’ donations to specific aid organizations, which support their employees as well as aid efforts.
While we tend to get overwhelmed or paralyzed by options, take one small step and go from there. One of my favorite quotes is from Saint Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you do the impossible.”
Whether it is an armed conflict, social unrest or a natural disaster, geopolitical challenges will not go away. As leaders and managers, we cannot control or solve these challenges, but we recognize that they affect our teams. When we establish a culture of openness and discussion before a crisis hits, we have the foundation to support ourselves in the eye of the storm.
This post How to talk to your team about troubling news events was original published at “https://hbr.org/2022/03/how-to-talk-to-your-team-about-distressing-news-events”