How to Talk to Your Team about George Floyd

Martin Luther King

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

As if a pandemic, complete with quarantine, stay-at-home orders and business closures isn’t enough, now we find ourselves under lockdown because of brutality, rioting, violence and chaos. Regardless of where you stand on the issues that confront Americans, perhaps we can all agree that now is not the time to turn a blind eye to what is a glaring national crisis.

Now is the time to be courageous, to step into the arena and engage in what might seem like difficult conversations. Now is the time to listen and learn. And now is the time to create transparency and invite people into an empathetic conversation about the unjust death of George Floyd and the ensuing peace rallies, protests and riots exploding all over this country.

Start with the facts

The facts of the May 25 death of Mr. Floyd are this: George Floyd was a black man who died in the custody of four Minneapolis police offers while handcuffed and pinned to the ground at his throat by the knee of a white law enforcement official. Be bold, but don’t sugar coat, editorialize, marginalize, or politicize. Acknowledge that the death of Mr. Floyd was unjust and endemic of systemic, ingrained societal racism.

Reaffirm your commitment to each other

Take this opportunity to call out social injustice, racism and discrimination as unjust and wrong. This is also your moment to reaffirm your company’s commitment to inclusion, equality, diversity, courage and openness – all values of a work environment that supports and respects all people so everyone can be free to do their best work.

Provide a path forward

Don’t hold back. Speak up when you witness any form of disrespect or incivility ranging from micro-aggressions to outright discrimination. Provide your people with the tools and language to address issues as they happen. When someone is dismissive, uncivil or rude, calmly ask, “What did you mean by that?” “I didn’t get it – can you explain it to me?” Respond with compassion if warranted. We’ve all said and done things we regret. 

Be the change you want to see

When you address alternative viewpoints with calm and respect, you model behavior that leads to inclusion and innovation. Support your people by exploring new ideas together. Through your words and actions, you can create an environment that fosters psychological safety and higher levels of engagement and trust for you and your colleagues.

Provide resources

Tragedies like these can feel intensely personal, especially for members of historically underrepresented and marginalized groups. Talking to friends and family may help, but don’t hesitate to suggest professional resources to support the mental health and overall well-being of anyone who seems to be struggling. 

Empathize, connect and unify

To help in healing our personal and collective grief for this unjust death and the cascading outrage at ongoing systemic racism, this is the time to be courageous and willing to discuss hard issues. Invite people to speak up and share, so we can understand and support each other.

Our deepest human need is to engage and connect and in difficult times, connection is even more critical to our emotional wellbeing. Share productive and healthy ways to channel the anger, outrage and grief to do good and bring about peace and change. Now is the time to show compassion through consistent acts of care and to grow trust, one step at a time.