If you don't know what to say, start by checking in🚦

A tool to lead empathetically during challenging moments

8 Dead in Atlanta Spa Shootings, With Fears of Anti-Asian Bias
Asian-Americans targeted in 3,800 hate incidents in the past year

I read these headlines and felt sick to my stomach. I'm an Asian-American woman, my family lives in Atlanta.

Watching the press conference and the coverage unfold made it worse. I was oscillating between rage and fear and grief when a calendar notification popped up: Team Stand Up in 30 minutes.

I hadn't gotten out of bed, showered, or eaten. All I wanted to do was hide under the covers and cry.

Then the anxiety hit — What do I say to my team? We had only been working together for 7 weeks, we'd never even met IRL. Is it appropriate to bring up traumatic events during a team standup? I didn't feel like I had the tools or the language.

At that moment, a friend sent me a DM in response to a few tweets I'd shared.

The hottest topic on the future of work these days is community and belonging. Tech companies are upstaging each other with community building activities — X company held a virtual wine tasting, Y company put on a magic show, Z company sent everyone a Peloton!

While sending all your employees fancy things can be fun, it's not what really moves the needle when it comes to fostering belonging at work. After decades of research, Gallup has identified 12 elements that build an engaging and productive workplace culture. One of the key elements is "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person."

When a traumatic event happens to someone on your team whether directly or indirectly, and no one acknowledges it at work, it can lead to greater feelings of isolation.

But how do you show your team you care personally? It's unrealistic to expect leaders to follow every breaking news headline and know exactly what to say immediately.

Then it struck me, it's not about learning new tools or finding new language. It's about acknowledgment, and creating space for empathetic listening. And I already had a tool to do just that — Red, Yellow, Green🚦.

Red, Yellow, Green🚦is a stoplight analogy for everyone on your team to honestly check-in with ourselves and each other. It’s a way to share how you really are in this moment.

  • 🟢 Green means we are here and we are present.

  • 🟡 Yellow means we are here, but maybe our head is somewhere else.

  • 🔴 Red means we are here physically, but our minds are completely elsewhere.

We typically practice Red, Yellow, Green🚦once a week, and everyone on the team checks-in with a color round-robin style. Sometimes folks add more detail as to why they're a certain color, other times they don't. It’s important to tell your team that no one color is better than another, and no one is pressured to ever explain why they're a certain color.

By using Red, Yellow, Green🚦 with my team weekly, we had already built a practice for empathetic listening, today I could use the same tool for acknowledgment.

We often reference this quote by world-renowned writer, speaker, and activist Parker Palmer:

My hope is we can humanize the victims of the Atlanta Spa Shootings, and bear witness to our human souls. I hope as a community we can continue to see, hear, and acknowledge each other. As leaders, it is critical to show we care personally. It is our responsibility to create a new norm of listening and lead with empathy first.