Part Two: I’m Choosing to Respond… Now What?
In our latest blog post, “Do I have to respond to every tragedy,” we discussed the importance of focusing on compassion and the human experience when deciding whether or not to publicly respond to today’s news headlines and tragedies.
In part two, we’re covering what you can do next if the reflection process leads you to draft a response. It’s important to keep in mind that when responding to tragedy, Empathy Comes First.
Start with Asking: “Why and for Whom?”
We’ve seen it time and time again: Companies often prioritize public perception over authenticity, hoping to land on the right side of history. Employees see through the vague LinkedIn posts and company-wide emails offering “thoughts and prayers” with links to Employee Assistance Programs, and are all too often left feeling unseen, unheard, and discouraged by this flippant acknowledgement of their very real pain. It takes more than a tweet to convince employees you care about their well-being and are ready to take meaningful action on their behalf. This is especially true for the communities most impacted by the tragedy.
Taking a moment to pause, listen, and think critically before jumping in can be a powerful action to take. So when thinking about your response, ask yourself and your organization: “Why are we responding?” Perhaps even more importantly, ask,“Who is this response for?” Asking these questions ensures your response 1) does not center white folks by default 2) clearly depicts the company’s stance on the issue and where to access resources 3) focuses on providing support for those most impacted, rather than merely educating the masses.
Be Specific and Human.
Language is important when communicating to your employees in times of tragedy. Vague language such as “We know that times are hard right now”, can end up leaving those most impacted feeling less seen. When possible, name the tragedy that you are speaking of, and if the incident was driven by bigotry towards certain identity groups, name that too. If your company has clear commitments (and proven action) towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, you can strengthen your rhetoric by condemning the discriminatory act.
As you connect with directly impacted employees, it can be helpful to offer resources when there are relevant support mechanisms in place. For example, a company may create a healing space for folks within a specific identity/community to process and grieve together, or sponsor an Employee Resource Group with additional funds for programming. If your resources don’t move beyond the common list of employee benefits (e.g. Employee Assistance Program, mindfulness app, and healthcare-covered counseling) it may be a sign that more intentional resources could be developed.
It’s most important, however, to remain human in these messages. So often, we get so focused on “getting the words right” that we lose sight of what connects us to one another – which is our shared humanity. When possible, express vulnerability and shared emotion given the situation. In employee conversations, it can be meaningful to say it clearly—to say: “I am having a hard time working right now” or “I am fearful of what might happen to my loved ones.” Vulnerable disclosures like these might encourage others to express their own feelings as well.
In summary, a good rule of thumb is to prioritize “seeing well” versus just “being seen well.”
Consider Several Touchpoints.
It’s tempting to draft a response, send out the communication, and assume the work is done. But these quick responses can feel formulaic both to the folks receiving the message and the person drafting them.
Give yourself permission to think about the response as a journey. It can start with a public acknowledgement of solidarity with the community impacted, followed —a few days later —with an internal list of resources to employees that’s informed by employee feedback. These preliminary steps can then be supported by the release of a report-back disclosing the lessons learned as well as a strategic outline of ways the tragedy has informed the implementation of internal and external changes.
At the heart of considering touchpoints, there is a desire to build trust. A steady stream of consistent communication and thoughtful messaging goes further than a one-off note.
Avoid Action Bias.
When a tragic event rattles the nation, we all have an urge to just do something. The term ‘action bias’ explains the Western tendency to favor action over inaction. Many of us have fallen prey to action bias, and our antsiness typically stems from feelings of helplessness and a desire to regain control. Some common symptoms of action bias lead to short-sightedness about the problem at hand or even ineffective group thinking (e.g. let’s do what xyz company is doing in response).
And all too often, the aftereffect is dehumanization of those most impacted by the situation. In a recent and deeply horrific example, after the Uvalde mass school shooting that took the lives of 19 children and 2 teachers, the conversation quickly turned to gun control instead of remaining sympathetic towards the parents who would now be planning funerals for their beloved children.
Before springing into action, pause to reconsider the foundational questions of: “Why? For who? What now?”
In practice, this could look like a “moment of silence” on your platforms where rather than posting where your company is donating to, there are no posts, no advertising, and no engagement. It also means that not every response has to be fully fleshed out with resources and action steps; instead, it can opt to vulnerably and compassionately acknowledge the pain that exists while committing to actively listen to those directly impacted.
Ultimately, it should never be “business as usual.” People watch and respond to what companies do. You have a responsibility as a brand to engage and take a stand (in fact, employees feel more engaged when their employer does – check out this recent study from Gartner). It’s a challenging and critical responsibility but one that has the power to imbue healing while shifting the status quo. Let that be your fuel!
If you or your organization is looking for a partner to support your DEI efforts or guide you in this framework, let’s chat: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Courage Collective
The Courage Collective is a consultancy that takes a strategic, holistic, and human-centered approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Our approach prioritizes courage, empathy and intentional action to create meaningful and lasting impact across the entire employee journey. More information on The Courage Collective’s approach and services is available at thecouragecollective.co.